Q & A on Iraq with Zainab al-Suwaij | Freedom House

Q & A on Iraq with Zainab al-Suwaij

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Zainab al-Suwaij, executive director of the American Islamic Congress and a trustee of Freedom House, spoke to us on August 8 about recent developments in Iraq.

Q. How did ISIS manage to capture Mosul?

It was prearranged with some of the Sunni tribes for ISIS to come and control Mosul. Many Mosul residents were Saddam Hussein supporters and are members of the Ba’ath Party, and they thought they would be better protected from the Iraqi government with ISIS support. They struck a deal with ISIS to fight the Iraqi army. In exchange, ISIS would be given access to the banks in Mosul, which had billions of dollars, and after the Iraqi army was defeated ISIS would leave. ISIS received a warm welcome, and for the first couple of weeks, most residents of Mosul were very happy. They told me Mosul was the most safe and secure it had been since 2003.

But, ISIS went back on the deal. They declared a caliphate, which the Sunni tribes hadn’t agreed to. The people who initially welcomed ISIS are seeing this betrayal, and the beheadings and other abuses that ISIS is committing, and they are starting to realize the reality of the situation. Women between the ages of 11 and 45 are being forced to have genital mutilation and are being told to wear burqas. The men are being forced to grow beards. ISIS is marking the homes of Christians and Shiites and destroying religious sites. Mosul is a sophisticated city, and these developments are very startling to the residents.

Q. To what extent do you attribute what is happening in Iraq to outside players? And where is ISIS’s funding coming from?

Outside players are extremely involved. There are some very influential people in some countries like the Gulf states and Turkey who are supporting ISIS. The banks in Mosul were full with billions of dollars. Mosul banks kept oil money and money for the salaries of Iraqi government employees. And, ISIS is getting weapons and artillery from the police stations and military bases that are now under their control.

The ISIS fighters themselves are coming from all over the world—Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Libya, Europe, even the U.S. Even women are getting involved through jihad marriage.

Q. What is “jihad marriage” and how is it affecting the women who volunteer?

Jihad is not something Muslim women are typically able to participate in. So, ISIS is recruiting women by telling them they can support the jihad by marrying a jihad fighter. The women can come, marry the fighter, cook for him, attend to his needs, and even have his children. So, young women are coming from all over—Tunisia, Turkey, Egypt, Europe. But the reality for them is very different when they get to the camps. They are being forced to have sex with dozens of men.

I recently met two young Tunisian women, 18 and 21, who had been recruited for jihad marriage in Tunisia. One of them is pregnant. They were very excited to go, but once they got to the ISIS camps they were told they each had ten men to attend to. One European girl who was there started screaming in protest, and she was beheaded in front of everyone. So after that, the rest of the girls complied. The two young women I spoke with were able to escape when their camp was bombed. They made it to Turkey and were able to get to the Tunisian embassy and go back home.

Analyses and recommendations offered by the authors do not necessarily reflect those of Freedom House.

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