Blowing Up Houses, Digging Up Graves: Iraqis Purge Islamic State

Blowing Up Houses, Digging Up Graves: Iraqis Purge Islamic State

The mood was festive as seven men each carried a bomb into a house on the edge of a village in northern Iraq on Friday (February 17).

Dozens of residents of Rfaila, young and old, had flocked to watch the house of their former neighbor Abu Maitham be blown up, filming the spectacle on phones to the sound of patriotic music blaring from a parked car.

They said Abu Maitham joined Islamic State (ISIS) militants who ruled over hundreds of towns and villages like Rfaila for more than two years, subjecting the local population to a life of violence and privation.

Abu Maitham had already fled when Iraqi forces drove the militants from the area last year as they advanced north towards Mosul.

The city's eastern half was cleared by January and the start of an assault on the western side was declared on Sunday (February 19).

In their wake, local people are purging every last vestige of ISIS’ presence: demolishing militants' homes and even digging up their graves.

The campaign points to a wider reckoning within Iraq's Sunni Muslim community, part of which sided with ISIS militants who overran around one third of Iraq in 2014.

Outside the house in Rfaila, about 45 km (30 miles) south of Mosul, Ayad Jasim arranged the tubs of explosives in a circle on the floor and connected them to a wire leading out to a battery pack.

Local resident, Ahmed Thiyab Ibrahim, said it was revenge for ISIS acts.

As for the bombs - tubs of C4 weighing about 2 kg (4-1/2 pounds) each - they were made by ISIS and designed to kill or maim Iraqi security forces, but have been dug up for reuse by the militants' enemies.

The first blast destroyed only the back of the house, so two more bombs were brought to finish the job. The second explosion ripped down the rest of the building with a flash followed by a shockwave.

The audience surged towards the pile of concrete where a house had stood moments before, clambering onto the collapsed roof and firing celebratory shots into the air as the dust settled.

Almost everyone in the area has friends and family members who were killed by ISIS, many of them in the security forces.

In Rfaila alone, seven officers were executed by ISIS and several dozen policemen and soldiers were taken away, presumably to their deaths, according to residents.

Many members of the security forces who fled when ISIS overran the area have now returned, joining a government-backed Sunni militia and seeking revenge.

One Iraqi soldier, Yasser Ahmed Ibrahim, said ISIS had destroyed his house after seeing a picture of him with security forces on Facebook.

"When I was on duty on February 26, 2015, a resident of the area called me to inform me that my house had been blown up," he said.

In the nearby village of al-Hud, the Iraqi flag flies at the site where ISIS militants executed people.

A wall painting shows the birth and execution dates of those killed, next to black figures pointing guns at orange kneeling figures.

Meanwhile in some known cases nearby, local people have dug up the graves of ISIS militants who were buried locally.