ERBIL/BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi authorities have moved hundreds of foreign wives and children of suspected Islamic State militants from a detention center in northern Iraq to Baghdad, citing security concerns and the difficulties of keeping them in a remote location.
Local officials, security and aid agency sources said more than 800 women and children — mostly from Turkey, Europe and former Soviet states — had been moved to a secure detention facility in Baghdad.
Around 700 more are still being held at the facility in the northern town of Tal Keif, said Mohammed al-Bayati, the head of Mosul’s provincial council security and defense committee.
Most of the women and children have been in detention since Aug. 30, when more than 1,300 surrendered to Kurdish Peshmerga after government forces expelled the jihadist group from Tal Afar, one of its last remaining strongholds in Iraq.
Their numbers have swelled as more foreign nationals have surrendered or been captured, said Sara al-Zawqari, the spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Iraq. Security forces have continued operations to rout the militants from their last remaining pockets of control in Western Anbar.
Iraqi authorities began moving the families several days ago, Bayati said, adding that the government intends to move all the foreign detainees to Baghdad within the next few days.
The move to the capital coincides with a push by Iraqi officials to begin legal proceedings to determine the fate of these women and children and end their prolonged detention, local officials and aid agency sources said.
“The government should find a way of deciding their future and what to do with them,” said Abdul Rahman al-Wagga, a local councillor in Mosul where many of the women and children lived under the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate.
“These foreign women and children have the right to a fair trial,” said Zawqari, whose ICRC was the only aid group granted consistent access to the families in Tal Keif and has provided them with humanitarian services.
“If they need to be repatriated, all parties involved should also ensure they have these rights and are treated with respect and dignity.”
In September, aid agencies said they were “gravely concerned” about the fate of the families, after the initial 1,300 were relocated without warning to Tal Keif from the transit site south of Mosul where they had initially been kept.
Reporting by Raya Jalabi in Erbil and Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad; Editing by Catherine Evans