WASHINGTON - The Iraqi Central Court of Investigation Wednesday handed over 188 children of Islamic State (IS) Turkish citizens to Turkish authorities in a process to repatriate dozens of IS fighters, as well as their children and wives, held in Iraqi prisons.
The Turkish foreign ministry and its embassy in Baghdad told VOA the move is part of Turkey’s effort to bring home its citizens, particularly minors, ahead of Eid al-Fitr or Festival of Breaking the Fast at the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan early next week.
“For those who have not been involved in crimes and identified as Turkish citizens, especially children, our embassy in Baghdad has taken necessary steps for them to be handed over to our country by the Iraqi authorities at the soonest possible date,” a diplomatic source at the Turkish Foreign Ministry told VOA.
Thousands of Turks joined IS
The diplomat did not disclose the number of Turkish suspected IS fighters and their family members in Iraqi detention, but said efforts were under way to bring home those facing charges.
“It has also been requested to extradite those who received the final judgment by Iraqi courts in order to stand in trial in our country,” the Turkish source said.
According to the Soufan Center, a nonprofit global security organization, nearly 1,500 Turkish citizens have crossed into Iraq and Syria to fight for IS since 2014. When IS lost its control of territory in Iraq and Syria, those who were not killed in the battles were arrested or fled with family members and mostly caught in Iraqi and northeastern Syria’s prisons.
In Iraq alone, more than 328 women and 600 children of Turkish nationality are believed to be held by security forces.
Prison living conditions
The source at Turkish Foreign Ministry said it has directed its embassy in Baghdad to ensure the rest of the detained Turks received proper living conditions and medical access until their transfer.
“Iraqi authorities say the conditions are being kept well as much as possible,” said the diplomatic source, adding, “the health conditions of our citizens who are detained in Iraq and their children are closely monitored by our representations in Iraq, and medicine has been provided for those to protect them against infectious and epidemic diseases.”
Iraq began its proceedings against suspected IS foreign fighters and their family members shortly after declaring its final victory over Islamic State terror group in December 2017.
A Reuters investigation in March found that about 1,100 children of IS fighters were held by Iraqi authorities with nearly 200 children as young as 9 years have been sentenced. It said the youngest stayed with their mothers in prison, and at least seven children have died because of poor living conditions.
In a statement Wednesday following the handover of the children to Turkish authorities, the spokesperson of the Iraq Supreme Judicial Council, Abdul Sattar Birqdar, said the figure included “a few grownups” who were convicted on charges of illegal border crossing and overstaying.
“The extradition was made in the presence of a representative of the Iraqi Foreign Ministry, the Turkish embassy in Baghdad, and international organizations such as UNICEF,” Birqdar said.
Before Turkey, Iraq earlier this year handed over dozens of IS children with Russian, German, and Tajik nationalities to their respective governments.