Sleimane al Anbari –
In the unforgiving deserts of Iraq, there is just one way to deal with defeated members of the IS group who try to come home — tribal justice.
No pardons are possible among tribes which have agreed among themselves to treat with the utmost severity those members who became extremists.
As for the families of IS members, many have already fled, fearing reprisals.
The former army commander for operations in the western province of Anbar, where IS once held sway after a sweeping offensive across Syria and Iraq in 2014, said returning extremists face short shrift.
“The Bumahal and the other tribes have agreed to adopt a common stance” on the issue, said General Ismail Mehlawi, himself a Bumahal.
In the vast region where tribal law prevails, the tribes have addressed the thorny question of what to do about any relatives who pledged allegiance to the self-proclaimed IS “caliphate”.
“They’ve all fled to neighbouring Syria,” say residents of Al Obeidi village in the heart of what was the last extremist bastion in Iraq, which has just been retaken by Iraqi forces.
But if any return or are discovered in the area, they “will be treated with severity”, Mehlawi said.
The cycle of revenge has already begun in Al Obeidi, said a security official in the Al Qaim region whose 150,000 inhabitants belong to around half a dozen tribes.
“A week ago, Busharji fighters blew up the house of a member of their tribe who had joined IS” and who was himself accused of blowing up homes in Al Obeidi, the official said.
Despite the authorities being aware of what was happening, this has not prevented acts of vengeance from taking place.
“One extremist’s house was destroyed by explosives, another was burned down and stun grenades have been thrown at the homes of other families whose relatives joined IS,” Mohammedi said.
The perpetrators of the attacks were never identified. “The families of extremists can’t live here because it creates tensions,” said Mohammedi.
Another senior tribal official in the Ramadi region, Sheikh Awad al Dalma of the Budalma, has drawn up a list of more than 250 names.
These are of “267 terrorists from the Budalma, Bushaaban, Budhiab and Janabin tribes” he said were guilty of “murders or destruction of houses”.
As for the Bumahal tribe, Sheikh Mohammed Sattam said “just two members joined IS in 2014. One was killed and the other fled and is now being sought.” “We will keep fighting whoever joined IS,” he added.
Several Anbar province tribes boast of having a long history of battling extremists. When another extremist group, Al Qaeda, staged bloody attacks in Iraq in the aftermath of the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, tribal fighters took up arms.
A number of their members also hold senior positions within the Iraqi armed forces.
But Bumahal fighters, along with members of other tribes, formed units within the Hashed al Shaabi, a motley coalition of militias and local fighters determined to drive IS out of Iraq. Such was the case with Faisal Rafie, Kalashnikov assault rifle in hand.
Behind him in a swirling sandstorm are piles of rubble — what is left of houses the extremists blew up in Al Obeidi.
Today, those who lost their homes are demanding justice.
“The IS terrorists destroyed our houses and stole everything from us because we were fighting against injustice and terrorism,” Rafie said.
“Everything we owned, we sacrificed everything for the people of Iraq.” — AFP