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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 September 2018

Iraq hands ISIL widows and children to Russia 

Baghdad said the women were tricked into joining the extremists

Iraq handed dozens of Russian women and children suspected of having links to ISIL over to Moscow on Thursday.

It comes as Iraqi courts try hundreds of detained foreign women and their children who lived with the insurgents as they battled government forces.

The foreign ministry in Baghdad said the four women and 27 children handed to Russia had been investigated by authorities, who concluded that they did not participate in "terrorist operations against civilians and Iraqi security forces".

Instead, the ministry said "they were tricked into joining Daesh" and would be "prosecuted in Russia for entering Iraq illegally".

Iraq declared victory over the extremists in December and has since begun prosecutions of foreign militants and their families.

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More than 1,300 women and children surrendered to Kurdish Peshmerga troops in August last year, after pro-government forces drove ISIL fighters from the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar.

The country's counter terrorism law stipulates that aiding or belonging to ISIL carries the penalty of life in prison or death.

Thousands of foreigners have fought on behalf of the extremists in Iraq and Syria since 2014. Many foreign women came, or were brought, from overseas to join the militants.

Fanar Haddad, senior research fellow at the University of Singapore, said the question of what to do with ISIL brides and their offspring has been an issue in Iraq since the early 2000s when the first incarnation of the extremist group was born.

"This has been particularly vexing where the father is a deceased foreign fighter leaving the children effectively stateless," Mr Haddad told The National.

Women have been an integral part of ISIL's state-building ambitions, with their roles far surpassing that of just child-bearers.

"They were needed in administrative roles, they were a key part of IS's attempt to normalise 'the caliphate' and they fulfilled many functions on IS's home front," Mr Haddad said.

Baghdad's Criminal Court sentenced a Turkish women to death on Monday, while 10 other foreign wives received life in prison for terrorism offences.

Thursday's developments came a day after Human Rights Watch raised concerns that the sentences being given to the wives of foreign fighters were "too harsh".

"Iraq’s courts are sentencing the women to life in prison and even to death for non-violent crimes,” the monitor said.

"Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as an irreversible, degrading, and cruel punishment," added senior Iraq researcher Belkis Wille.

The human rights group urged Iraqi authorities to “develop a national strategy to prioritise the prosecution of those who committed the most serious crimes”.

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