Children born under Daesh rule struggle to prove their citizenship

Several thousand parents in Iraq's Mosul city are concerned about the future of their children who were born under Daesh's rule. The Iraqi authorities are willing to register them, but corruption has complicated the process.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Iraqi forces liberated the eastern half of Mosul from the grips of Daesh in November last year. The war has displaced several thousand children.

Updated Jun 23, 2017
Francesca Mannocchi Francesca Mannocchi is a freelance journalist. In recent years she has covered the European migration crisis from Syria, Tunisia, Calais, the Balkans, Lebanon, Iraq and Libya. @mannocchia

MOSUL, Iraq — Anja Karji queues up outside the Iraqi mobile police and secret service offices in Bartella, a Christian village east of Mosul, which was liberated last November at the beginning of the offensive to free the Iraqi city from Daesh control.

A mother of three children, Karji is 27-years-old. Her youngest child was born a few months ago.

She waits for her turn to request new documents, as hundreds of people do here every single day. "Daesh," she says, sitting on the floor with her children, "has stolen not only our lives, but also our past, destroying our identity documents."

According to the Quilliam Foundation, at least 30,000 children born in Iraq during the Daesh occupation are now considered "stateless." Even though several thousand births were registered by Daesh officials, the Iraqi authorities have not recognised them as yet.

Like other children, Marwa, Karji's daughter, has no proof of identity. She and her entire family lives in the Khazir refugee camp.

After 2014, the year Mosul was occupied, Daesh imposed an unusually harsh interpretation of Islamic law on locals, forcing them to pay taxes, follow the terrorist group’s stringent social regulations, and to use their own offices and documents. 

"I preferred my daughter to grow up without documents, instead of feeling ashamed to be registered in a Daesh registry office," Anja says. "But now that we are free, my daughter is stateless and has no rights." 

"She has no right to medicine, she will not be entitled to receive any education. Above all, she has no nationality."

Iraqi officials examine the applications of people seeking citizenship documents in Mosul. (Francesca Mannocchi/TRT World)

Lingering fear

All the people in the queue at Bartella have a tragic story to tell. One person has lost a son, while others have been tortured in Daesh-run jails.

There are few, however, who speak openly. The fear they feel is still overwhelming, despite the joy of liberation.

In the mobile police offices, anyone who wants to apply for new documents must get clearance from secret services, who run background checks to verify if the applicants have any links with Daesh.

The investigators look for clues to see if they were in touch with any of the Daesh fighters who are still active in the city — or if they spy for them.  

Makhmoud, who did not give his last name for security reasons, is about 60. He's also in the queue, looking tired. He is carrying some paper evidence of what's left of his family's identity documents.

"When Daesh occupied my neighbourhood, I made a hole in the bedroom floor and I hid some money and documents," he says, showing TRT World the documents. 

"When my father died, we decided not to register his demise. And like us, dozens, maybe hundreds of families preferred not to have contacts with Daesh offices. But now it is difficult for us to obtain our rights." 

Makhmoud comes across as a tense man. His manner is both rigid and resigned, fitted to someone who is mentally and emotionally drained by the war. He says when he looks back at the last 15 years, he remembers nothing but death and destruction.

"But it’s more than just me," he concludes, "I have a great concern for the children who grew up for three years under the mad logic and violent teachings of Daesh. How will we rebuild the confidence of these children?"

Photographs of a citizen of Mosul are printed at a mobile office in Bartella after Daesh forces burned all her family's identity papers. (Francesca Mannocchi/TRT World)

Aside from 30,000 children being born in Mosul during Daesh's occupation of the city, several thousand children have been forced to attend Daesh-run schools. Many of them have been recruited by the terrorist group as child soldiers since 2014.

In Mosul alone one million children were living under Daesh rule, according to Save the Children.

Ibrahim Rasheed chose to register his two-year-old son’s birth at the Daesh office out of fear.

He holds the identity document Daesh issued for his son and looks around, as if he is hiding it from others.

In a low voice, he says he is afraid of being branded as a collaborator. "My son needs to have his rights, and I'm queuing because of this," he says. "But I know his birth certificate may become a disgrace. This country is a country of retaliations, and I'm so afraid that one day someone could punish my son because his birth has the stamp of a Daesh office." 

Rasheed says he saw Daesh flogging people in the open for not registering the birth of their children. "I felt compelled to do it," he explains.

Mahdi Waili, the top Iraqi government official dealing with nationality, released a statement last December assuring the parents of children with no identity documents that their cases will be considered.

"The Ministry will record their births," the statement read.


It's been over six months since the eastern parts of Mosul were liberated from Daesh, but local public services are yet to be resumed.

The ministry also promised people to issue birth certificates on the basis of the identity documents issued by Daesh. 

Abu Raid is the father of five children. His youngest son was born in November 2014. It is his fourth time in Bartella to ask for his child’s papers.

"I have no way to show that he’s my son, they keep repeating me that I must prove to be his father, but how can I?" he explains. "When the war started we ran away quickly, I didn’t have time to take a blanket, let alone paper sheets."

Raid lowers his voice and says that mobile police officials are "corrupt." Only those willing to pay bribes, he says, are granted their rights, casting a shadow over the reconstruction of a newly-liberated country that is already bitterly divided.

Iraqi men wait outside the offices in Bartella with requests for new identity documents. (Francesca Mannocchi/TRT World)

Belkis Wille, a Human Rights Watch researcher, asserts that Iraqi authorities have an international legal obligation to grant citizenship to all children born stateless on their territory.

"They should make it a priority to allow these families to reintegrate and get the access to education and to elementary rights for their children as quickly as possible," she says.

Yet, the road to recognising the rights of the most vulnerable — the children of Iraq — looks long and arduous.