Captured ISIS Fighters’ Refrain: ‘I Was Only a Cook’

Captured ISIS Fighters’ Refrain: ‘I Was Only a Cook’ by Rod Nordland – New York Times

Thousands of civilians fleeing the Iraqi military’s push to evict the Islamic State from its last major urban stronghold in Iraq now include hundreds of suspected fighters for the extremist group, dirty and disheveled, who arrive at checkpoints claiming innocence and begging for mercy.

While civilians from the stronghold, the city of Hawija, have sought safety in Kirkuk and elsewhere in Iraq’s Kurdish region, this past weekend was the first time they came in large numbers with men of fighting age.

According to Iraqi Kurdish officials in Kirkuk, 90 percent of these men are suspected of having been Islamic State fighters — including some who may have committed beheadings and other atrocities — and they are being aggressively interrogated.

Iraqi Kurdish officials were taking no chances on Sunday as they prepared one suspected fighter in a small office as his wife and four children squatted on the dirt outside…

The Iraqi offensive against the Islamic State in Hawija began on Sept. 21 and is now in its final stages, Iraqi officials say. The army and police, backed by Shiite militias, are close to retaking the city, which is believed to still have 78,000 residents — and up to 3,000 Islamic State fighters.

Iraqi Kurdish officials are intent on identifying any known fighters among the arriving men who may be linked to atrocities. Any with charges against them would be sent to court, while the others would eventually be allowed to rejoin their families in camps inside Iraq’s Kurdish region.

The men were first stripped of their shoes, belts (which in most cases were just string or rope), turbans and any belongings, then made to kneel in rows in a large tiled room, their heads bowed forward…

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