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Iraq begins trials for almost a thousand IS suspects

Iraq has also offered to try foreign IS members for payment [Getty]

Date of publication: 14 April, 2019

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Iraq has begun trial proceedings against around 900 suspected members of the Islamic State group, and expects to receive more suspects from Syria in the future.

Iraq has begun trial proceedings against nearly 900 Iraqi suspected members of the Islamic State group, a judicial source told AFP.

Some of the IS members in custody are said to be "very influential leaders".

The suspected fighters were caught fleeing IS-held territory in neighbouring Syria, and were handed over to Iraqi authorities by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), responsible for ousting IS from much of its former stronghold in eastern Syria.

The hundreds of IS fighters were transferred into Iraqi custody in recent months when IS' last patch of territory in Syria, Baghouz, was rapidly shrinking under military pressure from the SDF.

"We received the interrogation files of nearly 900 Iraqi Daesh [IS] members coming from Syria," the court official said, speaking anonymously.

"The specialised terrorism court has begun setting dates for their trial in batches," the source added.

Additional Iraqi suspects are in SDF custody and awaiting transferral, a security source said.

"They will be handed over in batches on the Syrian-Iraqi border. They include very influential leaders, but IS had sought to keep them hidden," the security source said.

One of the members who will soon be handed over to Iraq was deeply involved in IS' effort to develop chemical weapons, he said.

Iraq has already tried thousands of its own citizens, including women, arrested on home soil for joining IS. It has sentenced hundreds of them to death.

The country is in the top five for the highest number of executions in the world, according to an Amnesty International report released last week.

The number of death sentences issued by Iraqi courts more than quadrupled from 65 in 2017 to at least 271 in 2018.

But fewer were actually carried out, with 52 executions in 2018 compared to 125 in 2017.

Iraq has also tried hundreds of foreigners, condemning many to life in prison and some to death, although no foreign IS members have yet been executed.

Among those awaiting trial in Baghdad are 12 accused French IS members, who were caught in Syria and transferred to Iraqi custody in February.

Baghdad has offered to try all foreign fighters in SDF custody - estimated at around 1,000 - in exchange for millions of dollars, as their home countries continue to be reluctant to repatriate them.

Human rights groups including Human Rights Watch have criticised these trials, which they say often rely on circumstantial evidence or confessions obtained under torture.

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