14 French ISIL detainees handed to Iraq
The U.S.-backed YPG, the Syrian offshoot of the illegal PKK, has handed 280 Iraqi and foreign ISIL detainees to Iraq, 14 of whom are French citizens, in recent days, Iraq’s military said in a statement on Feb. 24.
An Iraqi military colonel confirmed to Reuters that 130 people were transferred on Feb. 24, adding to the 150 transferred on Feb. 21. They included the first known transfers of non-Iraqi detainees to Iraq, but it was unclear if they will remain in Iraqi custody.
There are meant to be more such handovers under an agreement to transfer a group of some 500 detainees held by the YPG in Syria, Iraqi military sources said.
Among the 280 were as many as 14 French citizens and six Arabs of unspecific nationality, according to one military source close to the handover process who commands troops near the Syrian border.
The Iraqi military has said only Iraqi nationals were handed over by the YPG.
The mayor of the Iraqi border town of Al-Qaim, Ahmed al-Mahallawi, said that some militants’ families had also been transferred.
Around 800 foreign jihadist militants who joined ISIL, including many Iraqis, are being held in Syria by the YPG. More than 2,000 family members are also in camps, with dozens more arriving each day.
In the meantime, Iraqi President Barham Saleh started a two-day visit to France with a focus on the country’s security and the fight against ISIL.
Saleh had a working lunch with French President Emmanuel Macron. They discussed the case of French citizens who traveled to fight with ISIL in Iraq and Syria.
France remains militarily involved in Iraq through training and logistical support of Iraqi forces and intelligence missions.
The fate of the detainees has become more pressing in recent days as the YPG plans an assault to capture the last remnants of the group’s self-styled caliphate.
The U.S. has called for countries to take back and try their own nationals. France’s official position states that French “terrorist” fighters “must be tried wherever they committed their crimes,” according to the French foreign ministry.
ISIL still poses a threat in Iraq and some Western officials believe that ISIL’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, may still be hiding in the area.