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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 October 2018

Iraq demands repatriation of foreign ISIS children

Governments being called upon include Germany and Russia 

This photo released by Iraq's Ministry of Justice on Friday, June 29, 2018 shows nine blindfolded prisoners ahead of their execution in Iraq. Iraq Ministry of Justice via AP
This photo released by Iraq's Ministry of Justice on Friday, June 29, 2018 shows nine blindfolded prisoners ahead of their execution in Iraq. Iraq Ministry of Justice via AP

Iraq is pushing foreign governments, including Germany and Russia, to take back almost 1,000 children of imprisoned ISIS fighters.

The request follows widespread public anxiety over the terrorist group's murder of members of the security forces that they had abducted.

"We ask all diplomatic missions in Iraq, resident and non-resident, to take back their nationals who have served their sentences and children who are not convicted," foreign ministry spokesman Ahmed Mahjoub said.

According to the Joint Operations Command (JOC) that co-ordinates the fight against the extremists at least 833 children of 14 nationalities currently remain in Iraqi prisons.

"Iraq has informed all of the countries that have citizens in its prisons. We have already spoken with the embassies of Germany, Azerbaijan, Russia and other countries to take [their citizens] back," he said on Tuesday.

According to Iraqi law children over the age of nine can face up to 15 years in prison if convicted of violent acts.

It remains unknown whether any of the children listed are accused of terror acts.

Iraq has detained hundreds of people including women and children who have been identified as extremists or relatives of ISIS fighters.

The country has faced criticism over the high number of death sentences handed down by its anti-terrorist court, it has hanged at least 111 convicts in 2017.

More than 300 people, including around 100 foreign women, were sentenced to death in April and hundreds of others to life imprisonment for belonging to ISIS, according to a judicial source.

They were found guilty under Article 4 of Iraq’s anti-terrorism law: "any person who commits, incites, plans, finances or assists in acts of terrorism".

European countries, including France, have taken a hostile approach to citizens facing Iraqi courts, insisting they should face justice abroad.

The French government has shown little sympathy towards adults who joined the group, but appear lenient towards children orphaned by the war.

More than 40,000 foreigners from 110 countries are estimated to have traveled to Iraq and Syria to join the terror group. Of those, nearly 2,000 are thought to be French citizens and around 800 are British nationals.

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Read more:

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Living in the shadows: Yazidi women tell of ISIS hell

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Human Rights Watch has urged authorities in Baghdad to change their approach when dealing with detained foreign women and children accused of links to the militant group.

"Since January Iraq has proceeded with rushed trials against foreigners on charges of illegal entry and membership in or assistance to ISIS without sufficiently taking into account the individual circumstances of each case or guaranteeing suspects a fair trial," the watchdog said in a report published last week. Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi said last year that Baghdad would "find a way to hand the acquitted women and children back to their country of origin".

Approximately 20,000 people were arrested in the three-year battle by Iraqi forces to drive ISIS out, which seized swathes of western and northern Iraq in 2014.

Last week, Iraq executed 13 people convicted of terror offensives hours after Mr Al Abadi ordered the execution of hundreds of prisoners on death row in response to the militants' murder of a group of security forces.

A video shared last week shows ISIS fighters threatening to kill six men within three days, unless the government released female Arab prisoners.

Mr Al Abadi said autopsies conducted on the captured men indicate they were already dead when the recording was posted and that "the terrorists posted the video to try to dupe us".

Iraqi security forces "will also find out who passed on information to the terrorist cell," he said.

The hangings of 13 extremists were intended to placate public anger over signs of the group's re-emergence.

Also on Wednesday Baghdad launched a major operation against ISIS sleeper cells.

Operation "Vengeance for the Martyrs" will include the army, special forces, police and Kurdish Peshmerga forces hunting down the remaining extremist cells in the country, JOC said.

The forces also launched a vast operation to clear out the region east of the Diyala-Kirkuk highway.

Although victory was declared over the extremists in December after expelling ISIS from all major towns and cities, the group continues to carry out deadly attacks in northern Iraq.

Iraq's military has kept up operations targeting remote desert areas from where the insurgents have carried out attacks.