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The Iraq Report: Baghdad’s 'most-wanted' list gives Islamic State leader a pass

Date of publication: 8 February, 2018

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This week in Iraq: The government releases a list of its most-wanted fugitives, while Iraq’s southern city of Basra becomes a hub for organised criminals, drug and sex traffickers.

The Iraq Report is a weekly feature at The New Arab.

Click here to receive The Iraq Report each week in your inbox


As Iraqi political parties embroiled in their election campaigns each attempt to claim successes against the Islamic State group, the Iraqi government has released a list of its 60 most-wanted fugitives, all of whom Baghdad considers "terrorists".

While alleged members of IS and al-Qaeda feature, eyebrows have been raised at some figures the list has included, and others it has excluded.

While politicians are focused on winning seats in both local and national elections slated for May, normal Iraqis are continuing to suffer in the country’s largest cities.

Shia militias continue their abuses against Sunni civilians while Iraq’s southern city of Basra has become a hub for organised criminals, drug and sex traffickers, and armed militias looking to turn a profit.

Similarly, Mosul in the north is being looted of what little it has left after the battle against the Islamic State group.

IS ‘caliph’ excluded from Baghdad terror fugitive list

Iraqi security services on Sunday published a list of 60 individuals wanted on terrorism charges, and on suspicion of being members of either the Islamic State group, al-Qaeda, or the Baath Party of late dictator Saddam Hussein, deposed by the US-led invasion in 2003. 

The list features the names of 28 suspected IS militants, 12 alleged al-Qaeda members, and 20 Baathists, giving details of the roles they allegedly play in their respective organisations, the crimes of which they are accused of having perpetrated, and, in most cases, photographs of the suspects.

"These are the terrorists most wanted by the judicial authorities and the security services," an Iraqi official said. "This is the first time we publish these names which, until now, were secret."

However, what is most intriguing about the list are two names – one present, and the other conspicuously absent.

Despite Baghdad claiming that this list represents the names of the 60 most dangerous fugitives wanted on terrorism offences, IS leader and self-proclaimed "caliph", Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, does not feature at all. He is neither listed under his nom de guerre nor by his formal name, Ibrahim Awwad al-Samarrai.

Despite Baghdad claiming that this list represents the names of the 60 most dangerous fugitives wanted on terrorism offences, IS leader and self-proclaimed 'caliph', Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, does not feature at all

While several of his lieutenants are present, Baghdadi’s absence is jarring, particularly considering the global frenzy surrounding the elusive leader whose operatives managed to conquer a third of Iraq, large swathes of Syria, and kill hundreds of people around the world.

Taking into account Baghdad’s more-than-three years of war against IS, suffering hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of damage with millions of lives affected, it is arguable that Baghdadi should have featured as the first name on the list. 

Instead of Baghdadi, however, the list features the name of Raghad Saddam Hussein, daughter of former dictator Saddam. Raghad has been living in exile in neighbouring Jordan since the US-led invasion and has not returned to Iraq since, preferring to keep a low profile in the Jordanian capital, Amman.

No intelligence agency or security assessment before or after the 2003 invasion flagged Raghad as a potential terrorist mastermind. However, Iraqi law has criminalised any affiliation with the Baathists and classified the entire party as a "terrorist organisation".

Some have therefore argued that Raghad is being found guilty by association rather than because of any actual involvement with terrorism. 

By failing to include Baghdadi, the Iraqi authorities are also being criticised for claiming that the daughter of a long-dead dictator is more of a threat to Iraqis than the leader of the most dangerous armed organisation in the modern world.

Iraqi authorities are being criticised for claiming that the daughter of a long-dead dictator is more of a threat to Iraqis than the leader of the most dangerous armed organisation in the modern world

Shia militias commit ‘crimes against humanity’ after IS defeat

The government downplaying the threat that Baghdadi poses to Iraqis has been emphasised by the fact that Baghdad has stayed largely silent as government-backed predominantly Shia militias commit what Human Rights Watch described on Sunday as "crimes against humanity" against Sunni Arab families. 

HRW reported on Sunday that the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), or Hashd al-Shaabi in Arabic, had forcibly displaced 235 families, destroying their homes and subjecting them to physical abuse and violence. HRW also reported that the PMF – backed by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) – forcefully separated children from their parents and stole livestock from families they were evicting.

Read more here: Beaten, homes destroyed, livestock looted: Hundreds of families with IS members 'forced into Iraq camps'

Once evicted, families were forcibly relocated to Daquq Camp, near the northern city of Kirkuk. Independent observers reported seeing displaced people marked with bruises and other signs of torture, and reported that they were too afraid to speak out about their ordeals for fear of government and PMF reprisals. 

Condemning the alleged war crimes, HRW said: "Widespread or systematic unlawful forced displacement imposed as a policy of the state or organised group can amount to a crime against humanity."

Impunity for sectarian violence, abuse and enforced isolation by Shia groups against Sunni civilians has been identified as a key factor in the rise of the IS militant organisation. Experts have long warned that a continuation of the government policies that led to an explosion of extremism will beget further violence, and may yet lead to the creation of another group like IS – or worse.

HRW’s report on possible crimes against humanity comes as Iraqi forces and allied US-led coalition partners announced that the United States would be drawing down the number of troops they have in Iraq following IS’ defeat last year. US Secretary of Defence James Mattis also confirmed that Washington’s priorities had shifted from taking ground from IS, to "stabilisation" and consolidation of gains against the extremist group.

However, and by failing to address the excesses and human rights abuses of their allies, Washington risks perpetuating a cycle of violence, revenge and bloodshed, as disenfranchised and marginalised communities continue to suffer under an oppressive system that claims democratic standards but often falls far short.

MP accuses Federal Police of looting Mosul

As Iraqis lose faith in their politicians’ ability to provide them with a functioning democracy, they are similarly losing any hope that the criminal actions of armed militant groups who enjoy government backing will be held to account.

Iraqi MP Jamila al-Obeidi slammed both the Federal Police and the PMF on Saturday, accusing them of engaging in a widespread looting campaign in recently recaptured Mosul, and smuggling their ill-gotten gains to be sold in Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdistan Region.

According to the deputy, the Federal Police – which is primarily staffed by Shia Islamists from the Badr Organisation – had been stealing water pumps and electricity generators from public infrastructure sites and private property. The pumps and generators were then whisked away to Erbil, where they were sold on the black market with Kurdish officials allegedly receiving a cut.

The Federal Police had been stealing water pumps and electricity generators from public infrastructure sites and private property... and sold on the black market 

The Federal Police retaliated against the MP, denying the allegations and warning Obeidi to "stay out of security affairs that are governed by their own systems".

Obeidi’s allegations were further supported by a lieutenant colonel in Mosul’s local police, Abdulsalam al-Mimari, who told The New Arab’s Arabic-language sister site that the government should open an inquiry into the looting and the smuggling. Mimari confirmed that his officers had intercepted lorries packed with stolen generators and pumps, and those responsible were referred to investigators. However, it is unclear if any formal charges were brought against the smugglers. 

Drugs and armed militias thrive in Basra

Another of Iraq’s major cities, the southern port city of Basra, has also come under close scrutiny resulting from its long-term problems with armed militias moonlighting as drug smugglers and sex traffickers. 

Due to its location on the Gulf coast and its proximity to the Iranian border, Basra has become a hub of criminal activity, with contraband passing easily through Iraq’s porous borders. Adding to Iraq’s woes are the fact that the facilitators and perpetrators of much of this criminal activity are powerful militias, some of whom are affiliated with the PMF as well as political parties who play an active role in the country’s day-to-day politics.

The New Arab reported Iraqi anti-drug police teams were seizing illegal drugs and other contraband shipments on an almost daily basis, with the Basra provincial council blaming the epidemic on politicians and officials with the kind of clout to provide formal cover to organised criminal gangs.

A local source told The New Arab that the rise in drug use in Basra was directly linked to Iran. "All of the people of Basra know that Iran is the source of the different kinds of hashish that are available, but everyone is afraid to say it openly," the source said.

This is not the first time that drugs originating from Iran have caused problems in Iraq. The Guardian reported in 2016 that a crystal meth epidemic had placed an incredible strain on the city’s anti-narcotics force, with police officers mistrusting their own comrades for fear that they may be receiving bribes from militias and other criminal gangs.

As some of Iraq’s major cities are being looted by criminals while others are being utilised as enormous markets for illegal goods, the people’s faith in the central government has eroded even further. Rather than standing up to these criminal gangs, Iraqis are instead seeing that officials are working with them in order to turn a profit. This can only spell trouble for an already divided and tortured country.

The Iraq Report is a weekly feature at The New Arab.

Click here to receive The Iraq Report each week in your inbox
 

Follow us on Twitter: @The_NewArab

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