Al-Qaim, Iraq: “He started yelling at me that I had killed his father, then refused to accept the gift I had brought.”
The member of Iraq’s security forces recounted how his son’s classmate had reacted when he went to the 10-year-old boy’s home in the city of al-Qaim in the Anbar province near the Syrian border.
The father of his son’s classmate had been a fighter with the Islamic State (IS) and had been killed years before. Following several years in the al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria after being captured across the border, his family had in recent months returned.
IS was declared territorially defeated in December 2017 in Iraq. In early 2019, they were declared defeated in eastern Syrian in their final territorial stronghold in the western part of the Baghouz plain, which straddles the Syrian-Iraqi border north of al-Qaim.
Many families and fighters pushed out of al-Qaim and Rawa in western Anbar in 2017 crossed into Syria. Rawa was the last city in Iraq to be liberated by Iraqi security forces with air support from the US-led international coalition in November 2017.
This reporter accompanied Iraqi forces into the western Anbar desert during these operations, which stopped at the border between the two countries. IS had not recognised this border during their years in control of the area.
Following the 2019 defeat of IS across the border in the Syrian city of Baghouz, many of these Iraqi nationals ended up at the al-Hol camp further north in the Hasakeh region, under the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration of North East Syria (AANES), or in detention centres in the same area.
Tens of thousands of people suspected of involvement and/or links to IS fighters remain in these facilities and camps four years later.
“The first time I met the little boy, I had also given him a gift and he had accepted — but I had been wearing civilian clothes. The second time I was wearing my police uniform and he reacted badly, saying we are all killers,” the security officer told Al Majalla over tea during a reporting trip to the city of al-Qaim in late April.
“These kids need help. We are afraid they will grow up hating us and our children,” the man added.
“And then who knows what will happen.”
Due to his position, he asked that he not be named.
Most peaceful Ramadan in years
During a 24 April briefing with journalists including this Al Majalla reporter, the commanding general of the Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) noted that this year’s Muslim holy month of Ramadan — which had ended shortly before the briefing — had been “one of the most peaceful in years thanks to the combined efforts of our partners.”
CJTF-OIR is a multinational military formation created by the US-led international coalition against the Islamic State.
“This year there were only 19 recorded attacks of any kind in Iraq — an 80% decrease from last year and 87% decrease from 2020,” Major General Matthew McFarlane added.