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Families in Iraq with Alleged ISIS Ties Denied Aid

Government Should End ‘Collective Punishment’

Yesterday in Kuwait, international donors pledged US$30 billion to help rebuild Iraq. But it’s unclear whether any of this support will reach one of the most marginalized segments of the population – families of suspected Islamic State (ISIS) members, many of whom joined the extremist group because of longstanding government repression.

Remnants of “Jamil’s” home PMF forces destroyed on January 9.  © 2018 Belkis Wille/Human Rights Watch

While these families may not be the most sympathetic constituency, it is a critical group to refranchise if the Iraqi government wants to prevent future sectarian strife. But there is already mounting evidence that security forces and area residents in Mosul are preventing international aid organizations from providing these families with basic humanitarian assistance.

One aid worker told me that during food distributions last August and September in the neighborhoods of Tal al-Rumman, al-Amal, and Yarmouk, community council members reviewed the beneficiary list and struck off several families they said had ISIS relatives, telling the organization it could not provide assistance to them. 


A staffer at another organization said that Federal Police forces prevented the organization from providing shelter assistance to any residents of Zanjili and Shifaa neighborhoods, stating they viewed many to be families with ISIS relatives. Police also blocked assistance to three families in the neighborhoods of al-Islah, al-Zirai, and al-Oruba for the same reason. 

A worker from another aid group witnessed security personnel and community leaders select which houses in west Mosul still without power to receive water and electricity from water trucks and communal generators – the families with suspected ISIS relatives were consistently being put at the end of the queue. The worker said they were banned from bringing in fuel and water to another neighborhood for the same reason. 

In January, the intelligence services informed an international aid organization to stop providing cash assistance to families in east Mosul’s al-Quds neighborhood because residents reported they were providing assistance to families of ISIS relatives, an aid worker said.

International humanitarian principles call for aid to be delivered impartially to those most in need, without any distinction or discrimination. International human rights law requires governments to respect basic rights, including to food and health, without discrimination. Punishing individuals because of the actions of others amounts to unlawful collective punishment.

Having spent time in Mosul, I can attest to the anger of those who suffered during ISIS’s horrific rule, and their feelings toward those perceived linked to the group. However, Iraq’s government should know from its own recent history the deadly consequences of allowing the cycle of marginalization to continue and should take all measures necessary to put an end to collective punishment.

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