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Militants Regrouping to Attack in Syria, Iraq and Around the World even after Final Victory

“If we don’t get rid of the extremism, IS can come back at any time and destabilize our lands"

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IS, islamic state, syria
Many children are growing up in camps since they fled Islamic State militants, missing out on their education, pictured in Hassan Sham, Iraq on Feb. 21, 2019. VOA

In October 2016, Umm Aysha and her three children huddled on the ground outside a bombed-out shopping plaza with a crowd of other women, all wearing the black veils required by Islamic State militants.

They were on the outskirts of Mosul city in Iraq, fleeing a battle as Iraqi, Syrian and coalition forces pummeled IS across the region from neighborhood to neighborhood, city to city and village to village. “Our house was bombed,” she told VOA, explaining why she fled.

That battle subsided and bit by bit, IS lost the lands they captured over the previous three years. On Saturday, after five years of fighting, the militants lost their last sliver of land, a bombed out camp in Syria. What was once a self-proclaimed “Caliphate,” occupying vast territories in Iraq and Syria and bent on the destruction, is now once again an elusive insurgency.

 But besides broken hearts, homes and families, IS is leaving a new threat in its wake, said Badran Chiya Kurd, an advisor for the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, which declared the final victory. Militants are regrouping and hope to continue to attacks in Syria, Iraq and around the world, he said.
islamic state, IS, syria
In the final weeks IS held a camp near Baghuz, Syria thousands of people evacuated the area, far more than any militaries or aid groups expected, pictured near Baghuz on March 10, 2019. VOA

Recovery for now-destroyed former IS holdings, including major cities in both Syria and Iraq, will require political will, investment and education, according to Kurd. If cities and towns remain in shambles without services or economies to speak of, extremism will continue to thrive, no matter who is officially in charge, he said.

“If we don’t get rid of the extremism, IS can come back at any time and destabilize our lands,” he added, speaking on the phone from his office in Qameshli, Syria.

Over the last few months, SDF forces battled for Baghuz, the last IS stronghold. Militants fought bitterly as IS supporters poured into camps and prisons, often vowing that IS will rise again.

But even back in 2016, when IS’s imminent demise was just becoming apparent in Mosul, Umm Aysha could see members of the group plotting their survival.

“There were two militants wearing veils among the women we came with,” she whispered. “They were wearing makeup and everything.”

Unveiled

The next time we saw Umm Aysha was only a few weeks later in November 2016, but we didn’t recognize her at first. She had cast off the black full-body and face veil and replaced it with a pink headscarf and a smile.

islamic state, syria, IS
In the final weeks IS held a camp near Baghuz, Syria thousands of people evacuated the area, far more than any militaries or aid groups expected, pictured near Baghuz on March 10, 2019. VOA

She was at one of the camps housing displaced families in northern Iraq, and the weeks without bombings had been a relief. The camp was quickly filling up and others were opening across Iraq and Syria. Millions of people would flee their homes as the fighting continued.

“It’s this one,” she said, showing us the tent her family would make a home for the winter, despite the increasingly cold and rainy weather.

She didn’t know then, that this tent would become her only home.

Over the course of the next 28 months, IS-held towns and cities fell to Iraqi, Syrian and coalition forces. Thousands of civilians were killed in airstrikes, and the bodies of militants were left strewn across the region.

In the final few months of fighting, many of the most devoted IS fighters finally surrendered after retreating for months or years with the group before their “last stand” in Baghuz.

Syrian camps and prisons are now packed with IS supporters, including thousands of foreigners–fighters, their wives and their children–from countries that are hesitating, and in some cases refusing, to take them back.

islamic state, syria, IS
“Of course they will grow up with the same ideologies as their fathers,” she said. “I tell my children not to talk about these things.” VOA

Many areas once occupied by IS have been rebuilt, but many have not. Locals whisper that they still fear IS and describe circumstances that lead to the rise of the group that are still present. The region remains unstable, poor and people often feel neglected by authorities.

“It was lucky we escaped early,” Umm Aysha told VOA in late-February this year as the final battles raged on in Syria. We sat in a small space secluded by tarps and blankest outside her tent, as she held her youngest child. Aysha was born only six months before and has never lived outside a camp. “If we had stayed with IS, who knows what my children would be like?”

Future adults

Umm Aysha’s older three children played in the sun, vying to pose for pictures. They were not in school for different reasons. Marwa is 12, and stays home to help with household chores. Nahida, is 4. “I don’t have a backpack,” she said, explaining why she doesn’t go.

Mahmoud, 8, finds some of the children at school to be bullies and his mom fears the ones whose fathers were IS fighters could teach him extremist ideas.

syria, islamic state, IS
More than 90 percent of the population of al-Hol camp are women and children, and most are related to IS members, in al-Hol camp, Syria, March 4, 2019. VOA

“Of course they will grow up with the same ideologies as their fathers,” she said. “I tell my children not to talk about these things.”

At the al-Hol camp in Syria a week later, as IS was in the final throws of battle in Baghuz, children there said they were also not attending school. With about 62,000 new arrivals at the camp since December 4, 2018, the camp is in crisis, short of tents and other far more urgent supplies.

More than 90 percent of the newly-arrived people at al-Hol are women and children, and camp workers say they are nearly all related to IS. Several mothers told us they plan to raise their children to support the next generation of IS, and hope their sons will join the insurgency.

islamic state, IS, syria
Iraqi Federal police tour a neighborhood shortly after a battle, still littered with rubble and bodies of militants in Mosul, Iraq on March 16, 2017. VOA

“My children are free to be fighters or not,” said Umm Mohammed, a mother of five with her black veil fully covering her eyes. “But Islamic State was good.” Like Umm Aysha, Umm Mohammed does not know when, how or if she will be able to move her children out of the camp.

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And across the border in Iraq, Umm Aysha says although she fears IS will soon regroup, that is not the real reason she still lives in a camp, more than two years after she fled her home. She used to live in the suburbs of Mosul, but her neighborhood was destroyed and she doesn’t have the money to rebuild.

“Where would we go back to?” she asked, shrugging. (VOA)

Next Story

India Assists Syria By Rebuilding Brain Power

India silently extends support to Syria by rebuilding brain power

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India helps Syria
India is helping Syria by providing them medicinal and educational support. Wikimedia Commons

BY RANJANA NARAYAN

In the midst of the global focus on Syria with Turkeys latest offensive putting a big question mark on when the war will end, India has been quietly doing its bit to help the Syrian people cope, and also laying the foundation for its bright future.

It’s not just with medicines and food supplies that India has been helping the war-wracked country, but now with education too.

India is providing scholarships to 1,000 Syrian students to study in Indian universities, in undergraduate, post-graduate courses and even PhD.

Behind the move to provide scholarships to students from Syria is a hope that it would in the near future replicate the success stories from the African continent — where several current or former Presidents, Prime Ministers and Vice Presidents have attended educational or training institutions in India.

Syrian Ambassador to India Riad Abbas thinks so too, and is happy at the move by India.

“India supports Syria in many ways. They support Syrian people with medicine, with food, and this initiative has come from Modiji (Prime Minister Narendra Modi) for our students,” Abbas told IANS in an interview.

“Around 1,000 students have come to India to study in different universities and different courses – from Bachelors to Masters to PhD”

“Through this means India is assisting Syria by rebuilding the brain” – here he taps his head with a meaningful smile, “the brain of our people to plant education, science, and peace”.

According to Abbas, it is “the best thing to rebuild humanity and the people”.

Could these students one day become leaders in Syria too?

“Definitely they could become… They will come back to our homeland to rebuild Syria. And maybe they will be in the government in future. They will be like ambassadors of India to Syria and Arab countries,” he said.

Abbas said that all the Syrian students currently studying in India as part of the initiative “are satisfied by the nature of Indian people and the hospitality. They are happy in their universities, and are fully supported by the universities”.

India-Syria
India is providing scholarships to 1,000 Syrian students to study in Indian universities. Wikimedia Commons

The students are in 11 government and private universities across the country.

Abbas hopes the initiative will become a yearly feature. “I hope we make it every year, if it is possible.

“Because we look forward to enhancing our relationship with India, and we want all our students to get their certificates from India, because Indian education is of a higher level, compared to other countries — similar to the UK and US,” he added.

Another important factor is the students “feel at home” in India due to the cultural affinities.

“There are similar traditions between the two countries and because of this they feel at home.

“Most of our students will come back to our homeland to help their families, their people and to rebuild Syria,” he said.

Though the Western world sees Syria as badly battered and bruised, India sees Damascus as a strong country with a powerful military that has been able to determinedly push back the Islamic State militia, which a few years ago had threatened to overrun the country.

While a few years ago the West was loudly calling for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down, today those voices have accepted his rule.

The Syrian envoy agrees. “Since a long time we have been fighting terrorism on behalf of the world. All terror groups came to Syria by Turkey’s support, they (Ankara) opened the border and facilitated their smuggling into Syria to kill our people and destroy our country.

“But now the last bit is left. We will defeat the terror groups on the ground, which get support from America. It is America which leads the army of mercenaries to fight against our army, and our army has defeated them. So now we are faced with the American army on the ground of Syria. This means that America’s project in the Middle East has failed, because of Syria,” the envoy told IANS.

India
Syria has cordial relations with India, since the independence of both countries. Both have similar views in many cases in the international arena. Pixabay

“They (the West and the US in particular) declared in the past, ‘We will change the government of Syria, we will change the president, we will do like this and that’… It was only talking for talking’s sake. Only they destroyed the country, but they couldn’t achieve their aims to change the Syrian government, and Syrian policy.

“And we are proud of our relation with BRICS countries, and especially with India. We highly appreciate India’s position and the Indian people, and we pray for God to save this country and its people.”

On Syria-India relations, he said: “We have cordial relations with India, since the independence of both countries. Both have similar views in many cases in the international arena.”

He praised India’s stand on the Syrian issue – on support for a political solution in Syria put forward by the people themselves, help realise the aspirations of the Syrian people and stand against any external intervention in Syria.

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“Because India has a strong voice in the international arena and many countries follow India’s position. And if all countries are like India, there would be no problem,” he added. (IANS)