BAGHDAD (Reuters) – The children ran along the narrow enclosure, screaming, fighting and crying for the attention of the prison worker distributing sweets and balloons. Bug-bitten toddlers, too small to walk, clung to the sides of the chain link fence, staring blankly.
Through the fence of their makeshift playground, the older children held out dirt-covered hands for the balloons; two of them said they were the only toys they have at the Rusafa women’s prison in central Baghdad.
“Please, I want to go home, please help us. This is not a good place for us,” one Azeri girl said through the chain link fence, surrounded by about 100 other children.
The visit by Reuters was one of very few times the prison has allowed media access. The jail is at the heart of the issue of what do with captured women and children of ISIS.
The ultra-hardline group carried out mass killings, torture, sexual enslavement and indoctrination in areas it captured in Syria and Iraq in 2014 and staged attacks around the world, meaning captives pose a security risk and are also vulnerable to reprisals.
“At first, trust was very difficult for us and them,” said the prison director, requesting that her name not be used. “Many even tried to kill themselves and their children.”
The prison holds 1,241 foreign women and children of suspected IS fighters from more than a dozen countries, 774 of them aged from nine months and 15 years old, the director said.
Brought here in November 2017, two months after being captured while fleeing Tal Afar in northern Iraq, most of the children who qualified for possible prosecution in Iraq have been moved to a juvenile detention facility.