What Life After ISIS Looks Like In Iraq
KORVA COLEMAN, HOST:
Last week, President Trump and Syrian democratic forces claimed victory over Islamic State in Syria. But what exactly does that mean? Syria's neighbor, Iraq, may provide some answers. Victory over ISIS was declared there in 2017 after U.S.-backed forces regained control of Mosul. Mara Redlich Revkin, a fellow at Yale Law School's Center for Global Legal Challenges, has spent a lot of time there. She says life after ISIS involves a lot of criminal trials against people suspected of joining or aiding the group. She's witnessed some trials.
Revkin told me about a man named Khaled. He worked at a slaughterhouse that ISIS took control of, leaving him with a choice - stay at the job and work for ISIS or leave and face retaliation.
MARA REDLICH REVKIN: Khaled, like many residents of Mosul, decided that cooperation was the only way to survive. So he continued working in the slaughterhouse. He claimed that he was never trained. He never received combat training or used a weapon or participated in any military operations on behalf of the group. But nonetheless, three years later, when Iraqi security forces, supported by the international coalition, recaptured Mosul, he was 1 of more than 90,000 people who have been detained on suspicion of association with the group. And he was arrested solely on the basis of testimony from a secret informant who had apparently witnessed him pledging allegiance, even though Khaled insisted that this pledge was involuntary and coerced.
So, you know, during the trial, I saw him explain that his work consisted only of feeding and caring for animals at the slaughterhouse. But nonetheless, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison after a trial that lasted less than 30 minutes. And the judges actually told him that he was lucky to receive such a lenient sentence because the crime for which he was convicted, which was membership in a terrorist group, generally brings capital punishment.
COLEMAN: A lot of post-ISIS life is figuring out who was or who was not involved in ISIS and bringing the appropriate perpetrators to justice. This is done mostly through courts?
REVKIN: Yes, it is. And it's happening both in federal Iraq and in the Kurdish region. The primary legal instrument for a prosecution is the 2005 anti-terrorism law which is very harsh and also very quite vaguely worded. So Article 4 requires the death penalty for anyone who has, quote, "committed, incited, planned, financed or assisted a terror act" - and a life sentence for anyone who covers up such an act or harbors those who perpetrated it. And the harboring language is particularly important because this has been used as justification to prosecute a lot of family members of alleged Islamic State affiliates.
So if you are the wife or child or a mother or father of an Islamic State fighter and living in the same house as that person, does that mean harboring? I think a lot of courts and Iraqi judges I've talked to would say yes. Another element of this law is the definition of a terrorist under Article 2 as anyone who has organized, chaired or participated in an armed terrorist gang.
And a word like participation is just so incredibly broad. And when you think about what that means in the context of a place like Mosul, where the Islamic State controlled the entire economy, had a monopoly on violence and then was also controlling borders and entry and exit, does it mean that anyone paying taxes there was participating? Or if you sold food to an Islamic State fighter, did that make you a participant and therefore a terrorist?
COLEMAN: We've spent a lot of time, Mara, discussing Iraq, but I'd like to ask about Iraq's neighbor, Syria. Do you get the sense that there are parallels between what people in Mosul, Iraq, have faced and what Syrians may face?
REVKIN: I think there definitely are parallels. So in general, the Islamic State's objective was to have a uniform and consistent system of governance across its caliphate that spanned Iraq and Syria. So in theory, the institutions, the rules should have been the same everywhere. Syria, like Iraq, is a religiously and ethnically diverse country, where ISIS was a Sunni jihadist organization that drew support from Sunni communities. And as the group loses control, Sunnis are generally suspected and perceived as collaborators by other religious and ethnic groups.
And so I think that we have seen in Iraq various waves of revenge killings and other violence against people who were believed to have collaborated with the Islamic State. And I think we could see similar kinds of acts of revenge in Syria.
COLEMAN: Mara, I know you're heading back to Mosul soon. It's been a couple of years since ISIS was defeated in Mosul. Has life in Mosul returned to normal in any way?
REVKIN: So I would say that in east Mosul, life is definitely returning to normal. Markets are functioning. Reconstruction is well underway. And parts of the city have been rebuilt. West Mosul is a different story, however, and it still very much looks like the immediate aftermath of a war zone. So in West Mosul, there are entire neighborhoods that are still destroyed. In some cases, there are said to be thousands of bodies still in the rubble.
I think there are - the U.N. has estimated that there is something like eight tons of rubble and garbage still in the city that might take up to 10 years to remove. So there are definitely parts of the city where life has not returned to normal, and actually, where conditions are so inhospitable that people do not yet feel safe returning.
COLEMAN: Mara Redlich Revkin is a fellow at the Yale Law School's Center for Global Legal Challenges. She joined us from WBUR in Boston. Mara, thank you.
REVKIN: Thanks so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.