For the first time, the Iraqi government is expected to take home about 100 Iraqi families from an extensive camp in Syria next week.
Repatriation is a move that U.S. officials see as a hopeful sign in a frustrated effort to return thousands of Iraqis from the camp, known as broth for young ISIL fighters (ISIS).
On Friday, on an unexpected visit to Syria, the top U.S. general in the Middle East, Marine General Frank McKenzie, expressed his optimism that the move from the Al-Hol camp will take place. He has repeatedly warned that youths in the camps are “radicalizing” and will become the next generation of dangerous fighters.
“It would be the first step in many of these repatriations, and I think it will be the key to bringing the population down the al-Hol camp, and indeed in other fields in the region, “McKenzie told reporters traveling with him to Syria.
“Nations must reclaim their citizens, repatriate them, reintegrate them, de-radicalize them when necessary and turn them into productive elements of society.”
A little skepticism
A senior US official said the transfer of people from the camp to northeastern Syria is one of the issues being discussed by the U.S. and Iraqi governments as they work out a roadmap for future diplomatic relations. and military. It arose during Thursday’s meetings, when McKenzie made an unexpected stop in the capital Baghdad. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
Earlier this year, Iraqi leaders spoke of the repatriation of some of their citizens, but did not follow through. So the plans for next week have been met with a bit of skepticism and it didn’t seem clear if it would be a first step that would change the game or a single deal.
Al-Hol’s camp is home up to 70,000 people – mainly women and children – displaced by the civil war in Syria and the battle against the armed group ISIL. Up to half are Iraqis. About 10,000 foreigners are housed in a secure annex and many in the camp remain supporters of ISIL.
Many countries have refused to repatriate their citizens who were part of the world who came to join ISIL after declaring themselves a “caliphate” in 2014. In 2017, the group’s physical possession in the territory ended, but many countries baffled their repatriation. , fearing its links with ISIL.
“Pay a high price”
In late March, the main U.S.-backed Kurdish force in northeastern Syria conducted a five-day exploration inside Al-Hol that was assisted by U.S. forces. At least 125 suspects were arrested.
Since then, McKenzie said Friday, security at the camp has improved. But, he added, security has no real effect on the radicalization of youth there.
“This is what worries me,” he said, as he stood at a base in northeastern Syria, not far from the Turkish border. “ISIL’s ability to reach out, touch these young people and convert them, so unless we can find a way to get them back, it will make us pay a heavy price.”
As McKenzie crossed eastern Syria, stopping at four outposts in the United States, his message was short and direct: U.S. forces remain in Syria to fight ISIL remnants, so fighters they cannot regroup. ISIL’s pockets remain active, especially west of the Euphrates River, in vast stretches of ungovernable territory controlled by the Syrian government led by President Bashar al-Assad.
“Out there and in the fields, there are still the underlying conditions of poverty and sectarianism that led to ISIS,” said British Brigadier General Richard Bell, deputy director general of the coalition fighting ISIL in the ISIS. Iraq and Syria, who traveled with McKenzie.
McKenzie said it was important to maintain pressure against the armed group “because ISIS still has an aspirational goal of attacking the homeland of the United States.”
“We want to prevent that from happening.”