Last Thursday morning, American Special Operations forces and their Kurdish counterparts, raided the ISIS jail close to the northern Iraqi town of Hawija, and freed 69 Arab prisoners held by the Islamic State. The prisoners were all Sunni Muslims. They were freed after a brief gun-battle.
But it was all a mistake. The raid was originally carried out to free captured pesh merga fighters.
Yesterday, in their first interviews since being brought to the Kurdish autonomous region by American Chinook helicopters, four of them described life under the Islamic State.
They were beaten and tortured by militants in captivity for suspected ties with the United States or the Iraqi government.
Islamic State guards had informed Saad Khalif Ali Faraj, a 32-year-old police officer that it was his last night in captivity. He was just hours away from execution. So he wrote a letter to his nephew, urging him not to risk his safety by searching for him. “I told him – Look after your brothers and your family. Don’t go out looking for me. They will kill me. Do not look for me”, he recalled.
Another former prisoner revealed that one of the main ringleaders in the area was from the nearby Diyala Province. Some other Islamic State fighters were from the Hawija area. After the militants arrived last year, they went house to house, seizing weapons and money, recalled Muhammad Abd Ahmed. He was on leave from the Iraqi Army at the time when the Islamic State swooped in.
Disarmed and impoverished, Sunni men in the town were later offered $50 if they joined the militants.
Local residents were told everything. Cuffs of men’s trousers had to be rolled up over the ankle. They were told how to position their hands and fingers when praying. Disobedience or carelessness in following the rules provoked suspicion and beatings.
Trying to leave the Islamic State’s area of control was a serious offense that could lead to severe punishment. They were wary of anybody who had served in the Iraqi police or army, or people who might have had contact with Americans or Kurds.