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The Backstory | The Backstory | Episode 14
Iraq’s Post-ISIS Campaign of Revenge
Ben Taub discusses his reporting on the corruption and cruelty of Iraq’s response to suspected jihadis and their families, and how that will likely lead to the resurgence of the terror group.
Read the story.
Released on 12/14/2018
[light piano music]
[lively music playing]
[people chanting]
In the aftermath of the Islamic State,
the Iraqi government's response
has really to see any who's in any way
affiliated as tainted.
So if you're a male of fighting age,
you're suspected automatically of ISIS affiliation.
And so, they've collected these lists
of tens of thousands, perhaps over 100,000 names.
Sometimes names are added to the list
because of workplace disputes
or because of personal disputes or tribal disputes.
[light electronic music]
[car horn honking]
Almost all of the convictions and death sentences
are issued on the basis of confessions,
which every suspect says was extracted through torture.
And it's visible, the torture is visible on their bodies.
They have scars, they have broken bones,
and then the prosecutor would stand and say,
enough evidence, I've asked for a guilty verdict.
Within five minutes of walking into a courtroom,
some of the suspects were sentenced to death.
Already, thousands of ISIS suspects
have been tried in courts
and hundreds have been executed,
but this is just a small fraction
of the people they've actually detained.
[bombs detonating]
[people speaking foreign language]
During the Battle for Mosul,
a lot of Iraqi security forces
were exacting personal vengeance.
Some of them had lost family members to the Islamic State.
You had scenes, really sort of gruesome scenes,
through villages like Qayyarah,
where the Iraqi government and security forces
executed captives and then tied them
to the back of cars and dragged them through the streets.
And you had villagers who,
it's unclear to what extent they were
taking vengeance on ISIS
and to what extent they were just trying
to prove to the soldiers that they weren't affiliated,
but they were going through and cheering
as the bodies were dragged through,
kicking the bodies, children kicking the bodies.
There was a man who climbed on top
of one of the bodies and was surfing on the corpse.
In carrying out vigilante justice,
the Iraqi security forces, on many occasions,
were consciously mirroring
the Islamic State's worst acts.
As part of the vengeance-based response,
Iraq's state television channel, Al Iraqiya,
runs a show called In the Grip of the Law,
and the whole premise of the show
is to parade convicted terrorists on camera
and force them to confess to the things
that they had done
or that they had been accused of.
[speaking foreign language]
[dramatic music]
And so, you'll have scenes where
a terrified man is forced to,
he'll be taken to the side of a car
and told, okay, show us how you put
the detonator in the glove box of the car
and he'd sort of go through the motions
as if he had done this,
and then he'd be harassed by the security services,
there'll be times where they'll kneel
before a line of armed men
and it looks like they're about to be
executed themselves.
It's very possible that some of these guys
did carry out these crimes,
but it's very hard to know
because the format of the thing
really suggests that these interviews
are not voluntary
and these people are on death row.
[speaking foreign language]
The host of the show told me
that three to four million people
watch every Friday night.
It is, in any case, very popular
and fueling a lot of the sectarian tensions
and outrage that have driven this war in the first place.
I left Iraq in late August.
Here, we have another blown-up, twisted vehicle.
Inside these three houses,
they found four bodies today.
I really wasn't expecting to see
that scale of destruction in Mosul.
The battle had ended more than a year earlier.
[light orchestral music]
One of the people I met in the Old City
was looking for things to salvage from his old home,
and as we're going up, he points under
a basement hole and he's like, see,
there's a dead ISIS fighter in there,
and sure enough, there were some feet
and you could see the rest.
The floor's covered in bits of concrete and rubble,
and I knocked over a piece of concrete
and underneath it was an IED, improvised explosive device.
It was right there.
And then I paused and took a
closer look at the ground around me.
There's detonators.
These are detonators, right?
There's a bunch of shells.
Military boots, detonator cord over there.
Last month, a child was blown up
walking in the rubble to get home.
This is happening all the time.
Let's get out.
Is it good to go?
No, don't touch that.
Do not touch that.
[dramatic music]
I spoke to a woman who identified herself as Msalay.
ISIS took over her village.
Her husband's brothers joined the group,
but her husband didn't.
She lived under the Islamic State.
She didn't trust the Iraqi government,
so when ISIS told them to flee to Mosul,
they came with ISIS to Mosul,
but still had no affiliation with the group,
didn't trust them, didn't like them.
When they fled the final days of the battle in the Old City,
she got separated from her husband.
[speaking foreign language]
[gun rattling]
On the way, traveling with their children,
she was harassed by militia members at checkpoints.
She was told by an Iraqi soldier
that he would burn her if the Americans
weren't standing behind him.
Her husband never showed up at the camp.
[daunting music]
He was detained 'cause he was suspected
of ISIS affiliation
because his brothers had joined the group.
So now, all of a sudden,
she's sent to a sector of the camp
that's filled with ISIS widows.
Her children are treated as if their father
was an ISIS member, even though he wasn't.
One of he children was born under the Islamic State
and they're being isolated and treated
as terrorists from birth.
By isolating a generation of children,
subjecting their mothers, in many cases,
to sexual assault in the camps
or forcing them into prostitution
in order to feed their children
because otherwise, they won't be given food aid,
this is creating the conditions for the next conflict.
[lively music playing]
Iraq is now entering
one of the most delicate moments in its history
because to the extent that ISIS did function as a state,
it was entirely predatory,
but now, it lives on as an idea.
[low string music]
The Iraqi government, essentially,
has bet on the idea that you can
eradicate the group by isolating
family members and killing suspected members.
It's never worked.
It seems impossible that it will work now.
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