Iraq Slowly Untangles Islamic State's Bureaucratic Legacy

Iraq Slowly Untangles Islamic State's Bureaucratic Legacy

Thousands of Iraqis have emerged from more than two years of Islamic State (ISIS) rule to find themselves in legal limbo: marriage, death and birth certificates issued by the militants are not recognized by the Iraqi government.

As Iraqi forces retake territory from the militants, the Iraqi state is working to reverse the bureaucratic legacy of ISIS, which subjected millions to its rule after seizing large parts of Iraq during the summer of 2014.

In a makeshift court housed in a cluster of portacabins at a camp for the displaced in Khazer near Mosul, Iraqi bureaucrats are busily converting certificates issued by the self-declared caliphate into official government documents.

Despite the violence and hardship that came with ISIS rule, life went on in Mosul and other areas controlled by the militants: people married, had children, divorced and died.

Outside the portacabin court, displaced Iraqis clutch ISIS documents as proof not only of their rites of passage, but also of the sophisticated bureaucracy the militants ran in their ambition to create a state for all Muslims.

Untangling ISIS’ bureaucratic legacy is proving complex though.

Mohamed Abdallah, a displaced Mosul resident, standing outside the portacabin courts was trying to sort out identification papers for his child born under ISIS rule.

'''I am from Mosul and I had a child in Mosul during the Islamic State rule. I went to get his certificate. They wouldn't give me a certificate without paying money first and they wouldn't give me the child until I got my identification card but they had confiscated my card because I smoked. And they made me pay a penalty in order to get the child and I didn't get a birth certificate for my child because I couldn't pay and my child until now has no identification paper. They created a huge problem for us,'' said Abdallah.

Even proving identities is complicated by the fact most of those displaced by the fighting don't have national ID cards because the authorities in the Kurdish region where the camp is located have taken them away for security purposes.

Divorces pose a particular challenge as Iraqi law demands that both wife and husband be present to terminate a marriage. But couples who separated while under ISIS rule often end up fleeing in different directions.

The procedures for registering deaths are particularly stringent to prevent people taking advantage of the chaos to fake their own deaths so they can escape justice, or claim inheritances before time.

Others converting their documents in the makeshift court had initially tried to skirt ISIS’ bureaucracy but ended up having to comply.

"You had to pay to get a marriage certificate. If you had a child, you had to pay to get a certificate. Most of the children here in the camp are nine months old or so, they all do not have their documents because people couldn't pay. There are no jobs, nothing, they couldn't pay. You had to do it their way or get killed, that was the way it was,'' said another displaced resident trying to get a legal marriage certificate.

The process is basic, with clerks using pen and paper rather than digital databases. In one cabin, staff enter details in a notebook which has the word "computer" written on the front.

The Mosul court house is in the western half of the city, which remains under ISIS control, but the judges and their staff hope they can return soon as Iraqi forces advance.

But for the director of Khazer camp, Badreddine Azmeddine, the arrival of the court and the local authorities has been long overdue as people have been pouring into the camp for more than four months now.

The costs of the document conversion programme are being covered by two non-governmental organizations as many of the displaced do not have the means to pay for themselves.

Two non-governmental organizations - Qandil, a Swedish group that works mainly in Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region, and the Norwegian Refugee Council - are helping with the process.

Fighting in Mosul has intensified since the turn of the year as Iraqi forces have renewed an offensive against the ultra-hardline militants. Troops had got bogged down in late November and December after entering Mosul as ISIS fighters fought back with car bombs and snipers, and concealed themselves among a civilian population of up to 1.5 million.

The Iraqi army, Special Forces and elite police units have operated in tandem to capture different areas of eastern Mosul. The army is mostly deployed in the north, the CTS in the east, and the federal police in the south.

The loss of Mosul would probably spell the end of the Iraqi side of ISIS’ self-styled caliphate, which its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared from a Mosul mosque as the militants swept through vast areas of Syria and Iraq in 2014.

Several thousand civilians have been killed or wounded in the Mosul fighting since October.