Just outside recently liberated Mosul, two judges have been tasked with punishing Islamic State followers who committed crimes and helping victims find justice. But without any way to gather evidence, the process often verges on farce — and could lead to a new cycle of violence.
On an early morning in late March, a large truck drives through the streets of Qaraqosh carrying about 50 men with blindfolds, their hands tied and their heads pressed to their knees. “Murderers! Rapists!” a man on the street shouts as they pass by. The truck stops in front of the court of inquiry, a white villa with rust-colored iron gates and a garden. It’s an inconspicuous location for a major project: This is where alleged supporters of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) in the Mosul region will be brought to justice.
Masked Iraqi army special forces open the tailgate. The men, their heads shaved, climb down from the truck, some of them groaning. Their clothing is torn. Black soil sticks to the soles of their feet. The prisoners hobble into the inner courtyard of the court building and kneel on the ground with their faces to the wall. A guard beats them with a metal stick, shouting “be quiet.”
The victims of IS are gathered next to the prisoners, gaunt men and veiled women from Mosul who lost family members, their homes and all of their possessions during the last two-and-a-half years of occupation by the terrorist regime. They hold their documents, evidence of the atrocities they experienced, tightly in their hands.
Supporters and victims of IS have never faced each other in this way. The Mosul residents gaze wordlessly at the bound men on the ground.
Although fighting is still ongoing in the western part of Mosul, and a half-million people are still trapped inside the old city, with insufficient food and water, an attempt to process IS atrocities is underway here, in the Court of United Nineveh. The court is addressing some of the most gruesome crimes in recent history: mass murder, rape and devastating attacks that have not only torn apart Iraq, but have also kept the entire world in suspense.