(Claire Thomas/ Amnesty International via AP)
BAGHDAD — In December, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared “complete” victory over Islamic State militants after Iraqi forces backed by American advisers and air power clawed back major cities occupied by the extremists for years.
Abadi’s proclamation ushered in a period of euphoria over the end of major combat, with many Iraqis embracing a message of hope, reconciliation and recovery.
But five months later, the ugly impact of the Islamic State’s corrosion of the social fabric of a divided society is beginning to show.
An untold number of women and children are being held against their will in camps, accused of ties to the militant group without any semblance of due process.
The women are being subjected to sexual assault by camp guards and staff and are being denied many of the basic needs for survival, according to a new report by Amnesty International released on Tuesday.
The report adds to the drumbeat of warnings that Iraq’s government is effectively creating a pariah class out of some of most vulnerable people in the country’s society and shattering any hope of a national healing that would help eliminate the conditions that allow insurgencies to thrive.
“Cast out of their communities, these families have nowhere and no one to turn to,” said Lynn Maalouf, Middle East Research Director at Amnesty International.
“They are trapped in camps, ostracized and denied food, water and other essentials.
This humiliating collective punishment risks laying the foundation for future violence.
It is no way to build the just and sustainable peace that Iraqis so desperately desire and need.”
The report cites interviews with 92 women interviewed in eight internally displaced people camps in Iraq’s Nineveh and Salahuddin provinces — many of whom escaped the intense fighting that raged for nine months during the battle to evict Islamic State from Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city.
Fingered as either Islamic State sympathizers, or for having a male family member join the group, the women have languished with their children in the camps and have been subjected to sexual abuse and humiliation for their perceived affiliation with the militants, according to the report.
Amnesty researchers discovered the women are routinely denied food and health care and identity cards that would allow them to work or move freely around the country.
Many have nowhere to turn for help, having been shunned by their neighbors in their home cities for their alleged Islamic State ties.
Some have been forced to trade sex for basic goods inside the camps while others are at an extreme risk of rape, the report said.
A woman identified only as “Dana,” 20-years-old, told Amnesty she had survived several rape attempts and was being pressured into a sexual relationship with a member of the Iraqi security services assigned to the camp where she lives.
“Because they consider me the same as an IS fighter, they will rape me and return me back.
They want to show everyone what they can do to me — to take away my honor,” she said.
“I can’t feel comfortable in my tent.
I just want a door to lock and walls around me… Each night, I say to myself, ‘Tonight is the night I’m going to die.’”
Amnesty does not offer a number of how many such women face such horrific conditions but the sheer number of displaced people in the country suggests the problem may be widespread.
According to a January report by the International Organization for Migration, more than 2.9 million Iraqis remain displaced.
Iraq’s Ministry of Migration has put that figure closer to 2.5 million.
Iraq’s government has struggled to address accusations of widespread abuses by security forces during the fight against Islamic State.
The charges have ranged from the forced disappearances of fighting aged Sunni men in areas once occupied by the Islamic State to summary executions of people with tenuous ties to the group in the battlefield.
Thousands of people arrested and charged with joining Islamic State, including foreigners, are being subjected to flawed trials that are leading to executions and life sentences after hearings that last less than 20 minutes.
Abadi, who currently running for a second term as prime minister, has won some praise for his consistent message of inclusiveness and reconciliation but his government has shown few signals of reining in the continued isolation of families who have been tarred with the Islamic State label.
Amnesty said Iraq’s government has not responded to its latest report.
“To put an end to the poisonous cycle of marginalization and communal violence that has plagued Iraq for decades, the Iraqi government and international community must commit to upholding the rights of all Iraqis without discrimination,” Maalouf said.
“Without this, there can be no national reconciliation or lasting peace.”
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