Thousands of civilians fleeing the Iraqi military’s push to evict the Islamic State from its last major urban stronghold in Iraq now include hundreds of suspected fighters for the extremist group, dirty and disheveled, who arrive at checkpoints claiming innocence and begging for mercy.
While civilians from the stronghold, the city of Hawija, have sought safety in Kirkuk and elsewhere in Iraq’s Kurdish region, this past weekend was the first time they came in large numbers with men of fighting age.
According to Iraqi Kurdish officials in Kirkuk, 90 percent of these men are suspected of having been Islamic State fighters — including some who may have committed beheadings and other atrocities — and they are being aggressively interrogated.
Iraqi Kurdish officials were taking no chances on Sunday as they prepared one suspected fighter in a small office as his wife and four children squatted on the dirt outside.
A lieutenant in the Asayish, the Iraqi Kurdish region’s intelligence service, put one hand on his holstered pistol and pointed with the other hand at a spot on the tiled floor. The prisoner understood and knelt on that spot, as an Asayish corporal tied the man’s hands behind his back with a scarf.
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