France is leading the way in washing its hands of its Islamic State fighters—whether they receive justice or not.
By Pesha Magid | June 15, 2019,
BAGHDAD—Standing in his prisoner’s yellow jumpsuit, Mustapha Merzoughi remained quiet at first. He shook slightly and brushed at his eyes, before assuming a neutral expression. His Arabic appeared to be limited, and when the judge first began to question him, he stayed silent, eventually saying in French:
“There is no point that I speak. Whatever I say, you will convict me to death.” About an hour later, he was.
Merzoughi was one of 11 French defendants that an Iraqi court sentenced to hang over the course of trials from May 26 to June 3. He was captured, however, not in Iraq but in neighboring Syria, by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) during the last battles against the Islamic State. Merzoughi and his fellow ISIS defendants were the first official cases of foreigners transferred from Syria to Iraq for trial—juridical guinea pigs in an experimental solution to the problem facing many European countries whose citizens left home to fight for the Islamic State. The Europeans do not want them to return, but the SDF does not have the sovereign power to sentence them, leaving their citizens in limbo.
Transferring them to Iraq allows Europe to sidestep the issue, but it comes with a price—or, to be more precise, a fee. Sources from both the Iraqi and U.S. sides have alleged that Iraq wants to be paid for the trouble of trying foreigners. Senior Western officials reportedly have said
the Iraqis want $10 billion as an upfront fee, with an additional $1 billion each year to take in detainees. Three Iraqi officials reportedly said they would charge $2 million per suspect per year. The French government has denied making any payments, according to a Reuters report this week. However the article also noted that “a French official briefing reporters after a visit by Iraq’s prime minister in May said Paris expected Baghdad to make an official request, including financially, on what it needed to handle large number of Islamist fighters.”
Between 800 and 1,500 foreigners from countries including France, the United Kingdom, and Germany still remain in Syria detained by the SDF. France alone has about 450 citizens being held in Syria. Jean-Charles Brisard, the head of the Center for the Analysis of Terrorism (CAT) in France, believes that as long as public opinion holds steady in resisting their return, this is only the beginning of a new kind of injustice.
alist based in Baghdad. Twitter: @PMagid