In December, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared “complete” victory over Islamic State militants.
Abadi’s proclamation ushered in a period of euphoria over the end of major combat. Many Iraqis embraced a message of hope, reconciliation and recovery.
But five months later, the Islamic State’s corrosive effect on Iraq’s social fabric is beginning to show.
An untold number of women and children are being held against their will in camps, accused of ties to the militant group, without any semblance of due process. The women are subjected to sexual assault by camp guards and staff and are being denied many of their basic necessities, according to a report by Amnesty International released Tuesday.
“Cast out of their communities, these families have nowhere and no one to turn to,” said Lynn Maalouf, Middle East research director at Amnesty International. “They are trapped in camps, ostracized and denied food, water and other essentials. This humiliating collective punishment risks laying the foundation for future violence. It is no way to build the just and sustainable peace that Iraqis so desperately desire and need.”
Thousands of people arrested and charged with joining the Islamic State, including foreigners, are being subjected to flawed trials that bring executions and life sentences after hearings that last less than 20 minutes.
Abadi, who is running for a second term, has won some praise for his consistent message of inclusiveness and reconciliation, but his government has shown few signals of mitigating the continued isolation of families tarred with the Islamic State label.
The report cites interviews with 92 women who are designated as Islamic State sympathizers or whose family members joined the group. Many of them escaped the intense fighting that raged for nine months during the battle to evict the Islamic State from Mosul, the largest city in northern Iraq.
The women are being held in eight camps for the internally displaced in Nineveh and Salahuddin provinces. At the camps, they have faced sexual abuse and humiliation, according to the report.
Amnesty researchers said the women are routinely denied food, health care and identity cards that would allow them to work or move freely. Many have nowhere to turn for help, having been shunned by neighbors in their home towns for their alleged Islamic State ties.
Some have been forced to trade sex for basic goods inside the camps, while others are at an extreme risk of rape, the report said.
A woman identified only as “Dana,” 20 years old, told Amnesty that she had survived several rape attempts and was being pressured into a sexual relationship with a member of the security services assigned to the camp where she lives.