ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Kurdish families coping with the unknown fate of their Peshmerga relatives are following all possible leads, including some claiming the fighters are being kept in secret prisons in Baghdad.
According to some family members of Kurdish Peshmerga fighters who were captured by the Islamic State (IS) in Mosul, the prisoners were transferred down south and are held in Iraq’s secret jails, a lead they hope will pan out after reportedly being contacted by prison officials.
Following the emergence of the jihadist group in 2014, IS captured dozens of Peshmerga fighters, many of whose whereabouts remain unknown up to now.
According to the Kurdistan Region’s Ministry of Peshmerga, 44 Peshmerga fighters have gone missing over the past few years.
“My son had just gotten married the year before when he was captured by Da’esh [IS],” Fawziya Fatah, mother of a Peshmerga prisoner, told Kurdistan 24 on Sunday. “Since his capture, his father has been completely distraught.”
After the military defeat of IS in the country, she said the family saw photos of him circulating online and heard reports that he may now be in the hands of the Iraqi militias.
“So far, we have received four messages claiming he is alive and kept in a secret prison,” Fatah stated.
Nurelddin Ahmed, the father of another missing Peshmerga fighter, said he remains hopeful he will be able to see his son once again.
“It is an honor and pride for anyone to be martyred and have a funeral, but when they go missing and you don’t know their whereabouts, you die every day,” Ahmed said.
“Our eyes are always on the door, hoping to see him coming home someday.”
The Kurdish Peshmerga were one of the most efficient ground troops in defeating IS. As the jihadist group emerged in 2014 and the Iraqi army collapsed, Peshmerga forces, with the support of the US-led coalition, contained and pushed back the IS threat in the north of the country.
About 2,000 Peshmerga have fallen while fighting the jihadist group and 12,000 more were wounded, according to the Peshmerga Ministry.
Zedan Nawdar, the brother of another missing Peshmerga, told Kurdistan 24 that from the moment Mosul was liberated, they received information from a reliable source that Peshmerga prisoners were transferred to Baghdad.
“We have been following the case since then, and last night, I received a call from someone telling me that my brother, Barzan, is alive, and he is being kept in a secret prison in Baghdad,” Nawdar argued.
So far, there have been no official statements from Iraqi forces regarding the whereabouts of the Peshmerga prisoners.
For many, claims that the missing Kurdish Peshmerga fighters are in jail but still alive is a relief as IS took the lives of most of its prisoners during the three-year-long war. The identification of victims of IS in mass graves and the overall forensics work required in Iraq is still lagging in providing closure to thousands.
Irfan Sheikh Sadraddin, the representative of the families of missing Peshmerga, stressed that over the past few years, they have closely followed the case in Baghdad and are convinced the Kurdish prisoners are still alive in one of Baghdad’s secret prisons.
Jabar Yawar, the Secretary of Peshmerga Ministry, told Kurdistan 24 they had previously contacted Iraq’s Intelligence Directorate in Baghdad and sent a delegation of relatives of the missing Peshmerga along with Kurdish lawmakers to follow up on the case and visit prisons. The delegation came up empty-handed, the whereabouts of the missing Kurdish fighters remaining unknown.
Editing by Nadia Riva
(Addition reporting by Masoud Mohammed)