Taking ISIS Fighters to Court

Letter From Qaraqosh

Empty streets and destroyed buildings are seen in the town of Qaraqosh, south of Mosul, Iraq, April 12, 2017. Marko Djurica / Reuters

Qaraqosh was once the largest Christian town in Iraq, but after the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) swept into neighboring Mosul in 2014, it became a burned-out shell. Since its liberation, three months into the Battle for Mosul, Qaraqosh regained some normalcy as residents trickled back in and began reconstruction. Part of that rebuilding inevitably involved addressing the damage that civilians sustained during the war against ISIS and, more complexly, deciding what to do with former ISIS fighters in the region. These are some of the challenges that the United Court of Nineveh, which relocated from Mosul after the fighting intensified, is now tasked with resolving. Although the court normally processes civil disputes in the Nineveh province, it now also oversees war reparations and holds investigations of captured ISIS fighters. 

The United Court of Nineveh occupies two buildings in Qaraqosh. One is used to process the ISIS-issued identification documents of Mosul residents who seek to exchange ISIS birth certificates, death certificates, and marriage licenses for official Iraqi ones. The other is used to hear remuneration cases and decide the fate of former ISIS members.

When I visited in May, the ground in front of the second building, a derelict, two-story structure that looked like it was once somebody’s home, was littered with strips of cloth that had been used as makeshift hand-ties and blindfolds for the suspected ISIS fighters. Inside, on the ground floor, the rooms around the pre-trial holding cells buzzed with the quiet conversations of those waiting to make a compensation claim for damages wrought by the war—a destroyed car, a leveled home. During the working week, more than 300 people can be seen shuffling outside the converted home and vying for a place before a judge. Public buses and taxis are a permanent fixture in front of the building—a striking sight in a city that had been mostly destroyed by fighting.

On one afternoon, I watched as a man made his case before the civil judge. “

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