Iraq News

Inside al-Hol, ISIS women cling to their delusions

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo


Women and children are seen at al-Hol camp, which houses thousands of the wives and children of ISIS fighters. [Photo courtesy of North Press Agency]

Even after a humiliating military defeat and internment in a displacement camp under heavy guard, some "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) women are holding fast to their dreams of an ISIS "caliphate", camp officials report.

Some are even behaving as if the ISIS leadership -- including the elusive Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi himself -- is still communicating with them and giving them orders, said Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) officer Farhad Khoja.

This is clearly delusional, he told Diyaruna.

ISIS has suffered a crushing defeat, its remaining fighters are on the run, and al-Baghdadi, who remains in hiding, has released just two audio messages in the last year, which are filled with grandiose and desperate rhetoric.


A group of ISIS women and their children stand amid the tents at al-Hol displacement camp in Syria's al-Hasakeh province. [Photo courtesy of North Press Agency]

The women at al-Hol camp who claim to be in communication with ISIS leadership are merely invoking al-Baghdadi and his commanders in an attempt to exert influence inside the enclosed and heavily monitored camp, Khoja said.

In this way, he added, they seek to secure certain privileges for themselves and their children, while actively excluding other women from their circle.

ISIS women at the camp in southern rural al-Hasakeh still behave as if the so-called "caliphate" exists, activist Ammar Saleh told Diyaruna.

These women still abide by the group's harsh rules, which include a rigidly enforced dress code and the meting out of punishment to any who try to defect.

ISIS women are forming al-hesba teams ("religious police") to punish perceived transgressions by other women, he said, noting that ISIS women in al-Hol also are trying to exploit any media coverage at the camp to raise ISIS slogans.

In spite of everything that has happened, including the collapse of ISIS, he said, these women continue to cling to their delusions, and to display in their conduct the extent to which they have been indoctrinated by the group.

Meaningless extremist hierarchy

Some foreign female extremists have succeeded in establishing themselves at the top of the camp's hierarchy, followed by Iraqis and then Syrians, Khoja said.

Most of these women are the wives of ISIS "emirs" or foreign fighters.

Meanwhile, the women at the receiving end of their treatment are punished by self-appointed al-hesba teams "in order to set an example for the rest", he said.

Khoja noted that these teams impose a strict code on the other women in al-Hol camp, particularly when it comes to mixing with paramedics, nurses, guards and visiting investigators and journalists.

The lower-ranking women, typically the wives of the group's rank-and-file fighters, are living in a state of fear due to the power the foreign female extremists wield, he added.

The al-hesba teams are trying to establish control to the extent that some who have defied their edicts have been killed or subjected to bodily harm.

The dominant female extremists at al-Hol camp are "extremely vicious and are constantly moving throughout the camp", keeping a close watch on everything, Kurdish Red Crescent official Azad Dudeki told Diyaruna.

Several stabbing incidents have been registered, he said, especially during riots that erupt when guards try to defend women who have been on the receiving end of the group's corporal punishment.

This has caused unrest at the camp, he said, resulting in a state of emergency on more than one occasion so that guards can take control of the camp and bring back calm and order.

Al-Hol women 'divorced from reality'

Many of the ISIS women inside al-Hol "appear to be completely divorced from the reality of what is happening outside the camp", Dudeki said, and "do not acknowledge what is happening in the outside world".

They are operating under the delusion that the so-called "caliphate" is alive and well and refuse to listen to any talk, even remotely, about the group's defeat, he added.

In an interview with AFP, Umm Suhaib, the widowed wife of a Tunisian ISIS fighter, claimed she had only come to al-Hol "because of al-Baghdadi's orders".

She has not seen her family in Iraq for nearly three years, she told the news agency, but she does not seem keen to go back home, stating that her only wish is the "return of the 'caliphate'" so that she can "settle there".

Iraq announced the military defeat of ISIS in late 2017. In March of this year, the SDF announced that ISIS had been ousted from al-Baghouz, the last strip of territory the group controlled in Syria.

Umm Suhaib, who had been among the group's last holdouts in al-Baghouz, was among the tens of thousands of people, mostly women and children, who were trucked to Kurdish-run camps in north-east Syria.

In total, some 12,000 foreigners -- 4,000 women and 8,000 children -- are now living in such camps, according to Kurdish authorities.

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They don’t deserve to live. By Kaaba and by the right of all honest people, they deserve to be executed or killed, not by ropes, but using their same despicable way, by being burnt alive in front of the people.