At a camp near Mosul under heavy guard, Iraqi forces have been screening the family members of "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) fighters.
The camp, around 15 kilometres east of Mosul in the town of Bartella, houses only the families of ISIS fighters who fled or were killed in the battle for Mosul.
Inside the compound, which opened July 9th, Iraqi forces are verifying the identities of ISIS family members and questioning them to ensure they were not involved in crimes or providing support to the militants, officials said.
Overseen by local authorities, the camp houses about 1,000 people who are "receiving all the medical and relief care they require", adviser to the governor of Ninawa province Duraid Hekmat told Diyaruna.
"The camp is similar to other camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the towns of Khazer and al-Qayyarah, as it contains a medical centre to treat all cases, and families are provided with relief supplies, food and water," he said.
"The members of these families are mostly women whose husbands have been fighters in the ranks of ISIS, including some who are pregnant and others who are mothers to small children," he said. "Also present are teenagers and men."
A specialised security committee has been checking the personal records of these individuals against a database that contains intelligence information and the testimonies of local residents, he said.
Need for rehabilitation
Hekmat stressed the need for "centres to rehabilitate the families who are not convicted of terrorist acts or supporting ISIS, especially women who were forced to marry militants and bore children from them".
These people have lived with terrorists "for a long period of time and suffered at their hands, and may have been influenced to some degree by their extremist ideas", he said. "They should not be left without rehabilitative treatment and psychotherapy to help them re-enter the community."
On June 20th, the Mosul District Council voted to "ban ISIS families from returning to their original places of residence in Mosul and to expel the families who are currently in the city".
This decision has met with mixed reactions, however.
Ninawa provincial council member Hassan Shabib al-Sabaawi said the issue of these families presents a real challenge to the Iraqi parliament, which will have to deal with it.
A foundation for stability
"We must lay the foundation, starting now, for stability and justice in [Mosul] by granting the victims of terrorism their rights, and embracing the guiltless children of ISIS families so they do not grow up in an isolated environment and become extremists or enemies of society," al-Sabaawi said.
On the other hand, supporters of the ban see it as a means to prevent retaliation against those families simply because they are related to militants.
"The fear of the return of incubating environments for terrorists is enough to justify banning the return of the militants’ families at the present time," said Ninawa provincial council member Mohammad Nouri Abed Rabbo.
"A return is possible, but only after the [security] check process is completed and the innocents are separated from those who have blood on their hands or abetted their ISIS relatives in committing their crimes," he told Diyaruna.
Inside the camp, he said, ISIS families "are protected and closely monitored by the security and local authorities".
They are going through a questioning and investigation process to ensure they are cleared from a security standpoint, he added, noting that "if their innocence and sincerity is proven, they will inevitably return to live in the community".
Ensuring the security of Mosul is a priority at this stage, he said.
"There are still ISIS sleeper cells in the city and security breaches that occur from time to time," he said, adding that the return of some ISIS families at the present time "may stimulate terrorist activity".