Iraq leader says Islamic State foreign fighters may face death penalty

FILE PHOTO: Iraq's President Barham Salih attends a forum in Baghdad, Iraq February 4, 2019. REUTERS/Wissm al-Okili

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraqi President Barham Salih said foreign Islamic State fighters tried in Iraq could be handed death sentences, according to an interview published by Abu Dhabi-based newspaper The National on Friday.

The IS fighters “will be tried in accordance to Iraqi law and may be sentenced to death if found guilty” of killing Iraqis, the paper quoted Salih as saying on its website.

U.S.-backed forces in Syria handed some 280 Iraqi and foreign suspected Islamic State members last month, Iraq’s military said. More such handovers are expected under an agreement to transfer some 500 detainees held by U.S.-backed forces in Syria.

Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said Iraq would either help repatriate non-Iraqi IS detainees to their home countries, or prosecute those suspected of having committed crimes against Iraq and Iraqis.

Under Iraqi law those could face the death penalty.

Salih’s remarks were the first public comments confirming that foreign IS fighters could face execution in Iraq.

“There are certain cases in which some of these foreign fighters have been implicated in cases of terrorism on Iraqi soil or against Iraqi citizens. Here Iraqi law will take precedence,” he said.

Iraq has said, however, that it does not expect to have to deal with all Islamic State fighters transferred from Syria.

“To laden Iraq with this issue on behalf of the world, is too much to ask of Iraq,” Salih said.

The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces group is driving Islamic State militants out of some of the very last territory they hold, nearly five years after they swept through eastern Syria and northern Iraq and imposed their own brutal rule, declaring an Islamic “caliphate”.

(Reporting by John Davison; Editing by John Stonestreet, William Maclean)

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