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Terrorism: Challenges faced by ISIS rape victims in Iraq

Yazidi women returning home pregnant or with newborn babies are being stigmatized by their own communities

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Women being used as facilitators for carrying out Islamic miki
  • Around 2,000 Yazidi women remain in captivity of ISIS, while the 1500 who have escaped their clutches are returning home either pregnant or, in some cases, with newborn babies
  • Abortion is illegal in Iraq even in the case of rapes, it gives an exception only if the birth would jeopardize a woman’s life
  • According to the Iraqi law, these children will be treated as if they’re born of adultery and, consequently, their mothers will not have the right to raise them

While the world talks about the growing threat of ISIS in developed European countries, Yazidis in Iraq are usually looked over because of their minority status.

Two years after Islamic State militants attacked the Yazidi’s in northern Iraq and took thousands of women and girls as sex slaves, many victims are now returning home pregnant or, in some cases, with newborn babies, Iraqi sources tell VOA.

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Those victims are faced with contradicting cultural and legal challenges: While the former type of challenge is compelling them to undergo abortions or abandon babies, the latter is criminalizing their actions, those sources say.

According to a Human Rights Watch report, nearly 1,500 Yazidi women and girls enslaved by IS have escaped. However, around 2,000 women remain in captivity.

Nemam Ghafouri, the chairwoman of Joint Help for Kurdistan, a Swedish-Kurdish organization that supports displaced Yazidis, told VOA that “the return of Yazidi female victims can be divided into three phases. In the first phase, we received raped women; in the second phase, we received pregnant women; and in the third phase, now, they are coming home with infants.”

More than 200 Yazidi sect members, freed eight months after they were taken captive by Islamic State militants, wait on the edge of Kirkuk for relocation, April 8, 2015.
More than 200 Yazidi sect members, freed eight months after they were taken captive by Islamic State militants, wait on the edge of Kirkuk for relocation, April 8, 2015.

‘Alarming numbers’

According to Ghafouri, the issue of pregnant Yazidi returnees became noticeable to her organization in November 2014, four months after the massive IS attack on Yazidi areas. “Since then, more and more victims have returned home, with some of them eight months pregnant and others nine months,” she said.

“Abortion has been used in all cases I have encountered,” she said.

No data are available on how many victims have returned home pregnant or with infants because they, and the officials, hardly talk about the issue publicly to avoid a backlash from a rather conservative Iraqi society.

VOA reached out to several women who sought abortions or gave birth, but no one agreed to talk.

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Nofel Hamadi Akub, the governor of IS-controlled Nineveh province, said there were approximately 3,000 newborn children with “unknown parentage” in IS-controlled Sunni areas as a result of “sexual jihad.” The number included children born to Iraqi or foreign Sunni women who married IS fighters.

“The most complicated problem facing Baghdad after the liberation of Nineveh will be the issue of children with unknown parentage,” Akub said.

Displaced Yazidis, fleeing violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State group in Sinjar, Iraq, head toward the Syrian border Aug. 11, 2014.
Displaced Yazidis, fleeing violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State group in Sinjar, Iraq, head toward the Syrian border Aug. 11, 2014.

Social stigmatization

A small religious minority concentrated mostly in northern Iraq, Yazidis are an insular group, keeping mostly to themselves despite the often bloody realignments the borders and political structures around them have gone through.

Marrying someone from another religion is an unpardonable sin in the Yazidi religion. Similarly, having sex, even under duress, is considered to taint the bodies and souls of the community members.

Consequently, when the IS militants took captive thousands of Yazidi women and girls as sex slaves and forced them into religious conversion, the female victims found themselves being stigmatized by their communities upon their return.

Nevertheless, in September 2014, the spiritual leader of the Yazidis, Khurto Hajji Ismail, widely known as “Baba Sheikh,” called on the community to welcome back the abducted women because they had been “subjected to a matter outside their control.”

That statement has since helped the victims rejoin their community, but newborn infants and pregnancy are not tolerated.

“The victims are our daughters and sisters, but it is unacceptable in our religion to allow the birth of any children if both parents are not Yazidis,” Baba Sheikh told VOA in a phone interview.

“It is also tribally unacceptable and a source of shame,” he said. “If such children are born, wouldn’t people ask who their fathers are? Are they Afghans? Are they Europeans?”

Therefore, abortion is perceived as a solution. However, that raises two other problems: Abortion is illegal in Iraq, and not all women want to undergo the procedure.

Abortion

The ban on abortions in Iraq covers the Kurdistan region as well and applies even in the case of rape. Iraqi law gives an exception only if the birth would jeopardize a woman’s life.

FILE - Vian Dakhil, a Yazidi lawmaker in the Iraqi Council of Representatives, says there is an "unwritten" agreement among Iraqi authorities to permit abortions for Yazidi rape victims.
FILE – Vian Dakhil, a Yazidi lawmaker in the Iraqi Council of Representatives, says there is an “unwritten” agreement among Iraqi authorities to permit abortions for Yazidi rape victims.

But Vian Dakhil, a Yazidi lawmaker in the Iraqi Council of Representatives, said there is an “unwritten” agreement among Iraqi authorities to allow the procedure to be practiced for the Yazidi rape victims.

“It’s an illegal act, according to the Iraqi law, but we’ve come to an understanding with the authority,” Dakhil told VOA. “The doctors refused to cooperate in the beginning. But we have taken the responsibility upon us because the women were forcefully put into the situation.”

To avoid legal consequences and public shame, the victims turn to backstreet abortion clinics, a source inside the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Ministry of Health who asked not to be identified told VOA.

Newborn babies

To Rezan Dler, a female lawmaker in the Iraqi Council of Representatives who has been working closely with the abducted Yazidis, cases of women who have been raped and want to keep their babies are not uncommon.

“A Yazidi woman who was pregnant for eight months when she escaped IS, she wanted to keep her baby, but her husband insisted on divorcing her if she refused to have an abortion. The couple finally separated. The woman is now living in a refugee camp with her 5-month-old child,” Dler told VOA, describing the circumstances of the Yazidi woman without disclosing her name.

In other cases, the Yazidi women have given their newborn children to infertile Kurdish couples, Dler said.

FILE - A refugee woman from the minority Yazidi sect, who fled the violence in the Iraqi town of Sinjar, sits with a child inside a tent at Nowruz refugee camp in Qamishli, northeastern Syria, Aug. 17, 2014.
FILE – A refugee woman from the minority Yazidi sect, who fled the violence in the Iraqi town of Sinjar, sits with a child inside a tent at Nowruz refugee camp in Qamishli, northeastern Syria, Aug. 17, 2014.

Some women are so resolute on keeping their children that “they’ve indicated they would rather stay under IS slavery if returning home meant losing their babies,” Dler told VOA.

Legal issues

“This is one of the most challenging problems that will face the Iraqi law in the future,” said Xamosh Omar, a court judge and a legal consultant for the Iraqi Kurdistan parliament.

“According to the Iraqi law, these children will be treated as if they’re born of adultery and, consequently, their mothers will not have the right to raise them,” Omar told VOA.

Another legal challenge is religion. Iraqi law, as guided by the Islamic Sharia code, rules that children will hold the religion of their fathers, Omar said. “Does that mean these children will be considered Muslims while they are raised by their Yazidi mothers? There is no legal answer to this.”

Dler is trying to push the Iraqi parliament to find a legal way. But she said chances of passage are very low.

“I am a woman and I understand what raped Yazidi women must go through. But for the Iraqi parliament, this is a shameful topic to be addressed. I doubt they will allow this issue to be even brought into the parliament for discussion, let alone finding a legal answer,” she said. (VOA)

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Syrian Militia: End Is Near for Islamic State in Raqqa

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Smoke rises near the stadium where the Islamic State militants are holed up after an airstrike by coalition forces at the frontline, in Raqqa, Syria. voa

Islamic State is on the verge of defeat in Syria’s Raqqa and the city may finally be cleared of the jihadists Saturday or Sunday, the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia told Reuters Saturday.

The U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State said around 100 of the jihadist group’s fighters had surrendered in Raqqa in the last 24 hours and had been “removed from the city,” but it still expected difficult fighting “in the days ahead.”

It did not say how the fighters had been removed or where the fighters had been taken.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said remaining Islamic State fighters were being transported out of Raqqa by bus under a deal between Islamic State, the U.S.-led coalition and the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is dominated by the YPG. There was no immediate comment on that report from the coalition or the SDF.

Fighting since June

Civilians who escaped from Islamic State
Civilians who escaped from Islamic State militants rest at a mosque in Raqqa, Syria. voa

The SDF, backed by coalition airstrikes and special forces, has been battling since June to oust Islamic State from Raqqa city, formerly its de facto capital in Syria and a base of operations where it planned attacks against the West.

The final defeat of Islamic State at Raqqa will be a major milestone in efforts to roll back the group’s self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq, where earlier this year the group was driven from the city of Mosul.

“The battles are continuing in Raqqa city. Daesh (Islamic State) is on the verge of being finished. Today or tomorrow the city may be liberated,” YPG spokesman Nouri Mahmoud told Reuters by telephone.

In emailed comments to Reuters, coalition spokesman Ryan Dillon said about 100 Islamic State fighters had surrendered in Raqqa in the last 24 hours and were “removed from the city,” without giving further details.

“We still expect difficult fighting in the days ahead and will not set a time for when we think (Islamic State) will be completely defeated in Raqqa,” he said, adding that around 85 percent of Raqqa had been liberated as of Oct. 13.

Some civilians escape

Around 1,500 civilians had been able to safely make it to SDF lines within the last week, he added.

Omar Alloush, a member of a civilian council set up to run Raqqa, told Reuters late Friday that efforts were under way to secure the release of civilians and “a possible way to expel terrorist elements from Raqqa province,” without giving further details.

An activist group that reports on Raqqa, Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, said on its Facebook page Saturday that dozens of buses had entered Raqqa city overnight, having traveled from the northern Raqqa countryside.

The Observatory said Syrian Islamic State fighters and their families had left the city, and buses had arrived to evacuate remaining foreign fighters and their families. It did not say where they would be taken.

During the more than six-year Syrian war, the arrival of buses in a conflict zone has often signaled an evacuation of combatants and civilians.

The campaign against Islamic State in Syria is now focused on its last major foothold in the country, the eastern province of Deir el-Zour, which neighbors Iraq.
Islamic State is facing separate offensives in Deir el-Zour by the SDF on one hand, and Syrian government forces supported by Iranian-backed militia and Russian airstrikes on the other. (VOA)

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Indo-Pak Peace Talks Futile Unless Islamabad Sheds Links with Terrorism, says Study

A Study by a U.S. think tank calls India and Pakistan talks futile, until Pakistan changes its approach.

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India and Pakistan
India and Pakistan. Wikimedia.

A Top United States of America (U.S.) think tank, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace called the relations between India and Pakistan futile, unless Islamabad changes its approach and sheds its links with Jihadi terrorism.

A report “Are India and Pakistan Peace Talks Worth a Damn”, authored by Ashley J Tellis stated that such a move supported by foreign countries would be counterproductive and misguided.

The report suggests that International community’s call for the India and Pakistan talks don’t recognize that the tension between the two countries is not actually due to the sharp differences between them, but due to the long rooted ideological, territorial and power-political hatred. The report states that these antagonisms are fueled by Pakistani army’s desire to subvert India’s powerful global position.

Tellis writes that Pakistan’s hatred is driven by its aim to be considered and treated equal to India, despite the vast differences in their achievements and capabilities.

Also ReadMilitant Groups in Pakistan Emerge as Political Parties : Can Violent Extremism and Politics Co-exist? 

New Delhi, however, has kept their stance clear and mentioned that India and Pakistan talks cannot be conducted, until, the latter stops supporting terrorism, and the people conducting destructive activities in India.

The report further suggests that Pakistan sees India as a genuine threat and continuously uses Jihadi terrorism as a source to weaken India. The report extends its support to India’s position and asks other international powers, including the U.S., to extend their support to New Delhi.

Earlier in September, Union External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj in the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) slammed Pakistan for its continuous terror activities. She attacked the country by saying that India has produced engineers, doctors, and scholars; Pakistan has produced terrorists.

Sushma Swaraj further said that when India is being recognised in the world for its IT and achievements in the space, Pakistan is producing Terrorist Organisations like Lashkar-e-Taiba. She said that Pakistan is the world’s greatest exporter of havoc, death and inhumanity.

-by Megha Acharya  of NewsGram. Megha can be reached at @ImMeghaacharya. 

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Why are Ordinary Citizens becoming ‘Extremists’?

Factors of people dwelling into extremism

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Extremists
Extremists (Representational Image)

Oct 1, 2017: The 21st century is witnessing more and more of extremism, in the form of both verbal and physical assault. The phenomenon of showcasing extreme support is visible in many countries. Groups like ISIL target extremists and through them conduct violent activities in the name of defending ‘Islam’ and Muslim communities.

Who are Extremists?

A person who has extreme political or religious views and lacks the quality of being ‘objective’. The actions of extremists may often be aggressive and violent. Various organisations including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have gauged the factors of people resorting to such measures.

One may wonder as to why do extremists resort to aggression and violence in the name of religion or ideology? What could lead to someone dwelling into such actions? Apart from education and poverty, there are factors which result in such behavior. Various studies and researches indicate factors- loneliness, depression, and need for societal acceptance as some of the reasons.

The FBI in one of its reports has stated some vulnerabilities which lead to terrorists or extremist groups.

Also Read: Muslim Population May Take Over European Dominance In the Coming Decades

The following factors make people more prone to believing in such ideology:

1. Feeling of loneliness.
2. Emotional distress.
3. Hatred towards a sect of society.
4. Disagreeing with governmental policies.
5. The need of being accepted in the society.

Terrorist organisations are in search for these people only. While the reasons for becoming an extremist is mostly a mystery, but terrorist organisations recruit the ones who have these vulnerabilities, as these factors are directly related to a person’s psychology and conscience, and the game can certainly be won by playing with the person’s psychology. These people are dehumanizing those who do not fit into their view, and as mentioned before this extremism is leading to terrorism. Extremism in India, which has lead to terrorism is prevalent in conflicted areas like Jammu and Kashmir, where Islamic militants are conditioning and instigating the citizens of the state to raise their voice against their nation.

The rising extremists is a grave concern that commands immediate actions to be taken. The present actions determine that the future may be very bleak. We need a future which has humanity and objectivity. Extremism needs to be beaten through the power of knowledge, education and right information.