BAGHDAD: Iraq has begun trial proceedings for nearly 900 Iraqi suspected members of the militant Islamic State group caught fleeing jihadist territory in neighbouring Syria, a judicial source said on Sunday.

They were handed over to Iraqi authorities by the US-ba­cked Syrian Demo­cratic Forces, which ousted IS from swathes of eastern Syria including territory bordering Iraq.

“We received the interrogation files of nearly 900 Iraqi Daesh (IS) members coming from Syria,” the court official said, speaking anonymously because he was not authorised to talk to the media.

“The specialised terrorism court has begun setting dates for their trial in batches,” the source added.

The nearly 900 suspected jihadists were transferred by the SDF to Iraqi custody in recent months as the remnants of IS’ once sprawling self-declared “caliphate” collapsed in neighbouring Syria.

Additional Iraqi suspects are in SDF custody and awaiting transferral, a security source said.

“They will be handed over in batches on the Syrian-Iraqi border. They include very influential leaders, but IS had sought to keep them hidden,” the security source said.

One of those destined to be handed over was deeply involved in IS’ efforts to develop chemical weapons, he said.

Iraq has already tried thousands of its own nationals arrested on home soil for joining IS — including women — and has sentenced hundreds to death.

The country remains in the top five “executioner” nations in the world, according to an Amnesty Inter­national report released last week.

The number of death sentences issued by Iraqi courts more than quadrupled from 65 in 2017 to at least 271 in 2018.

But fewer were actually carried out, according to Amnesty, with 52 executions in 2018 compared to 125 in 2017.

Published in Dawn, April 15th, 2019