ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Iraq announced on Sunday that it would take back Iraqi nationals accused of fighting for the Islamic State who are currently detained in Syria by Kurdish forces, but not foreigners who came to Iraq and Syria to join the extremist group.
"Iraq is responsible for receiving ISIS fighter detainees with Iraqi nationality and their families in Syria, as they will be tried in Iraqi courts of law according to Iraqi laws," said Iraqi Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ahmad Al-Sahaf.
He added, "Iraq is not responsible for taking in the foreign ISIS militants who conducted terrorist acts outside of Iraqi borders, and it is up to their countries of origin to take care of them."
Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) soldiers hold thousands of foreign militants in several camps who it is feared may use the Turkish incursion as an opportunity to regroup and launch new attacks, including breaking out large numbers of Islamic State detainees.
Human Rights Watch recently reported that local officials estimate that the SDF currently has custody of 12,000 prisoners suspected of membership in the Islamic State, including 4,000 foreigners, in seven detention centers in northern Syria.
One of the camps holding family members of accused Islamic State fighters is al-Hol camp, which was built to house 40,000 individuals but currently holds over 72,000, mostly women and children. Among them are roughly 30,000 Iraqis. It witnessed a sharp increase in numbers of residents as the US-backed and Kurdish-led SDF launched an offensive to defeat the Islamic State in its last bastion of Baghouz, which ended in March.
There is little agreement on what to do with the camp's residents. Many nations, notably European Union member states, have shown great reluctance to take back their nationals now at the camp because of fears that they would pose a security threat.
European countries recently made efforts to transfer foreign Islamic State prisoners to Iraq and arrange a joint international tribunal, but now the main priority is to contend with the security vacuum caused by the Turkish assault on the SDF by the Turkish military and its allied Syrian militias.
More than 50 nationalities, including those from countries in Central Asia, Europe, and North America, are represented among the detainees now held either in prisons or camps in northern Syria.
Editing by John J. Catherine