Iraqi President Barham Salih has said foreign Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL,ISIS) fighters tried in Iraq could be handed death sentences, according to an interview published by Abu Dhabi-based newspaper The National on Friday.
The ISIL 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 on its website on Thursday. "Iraqi law allows for capital punishment and we will uphold Iraqi law."
Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) forces backed by the United States handed over some 280 Iraqi and foreign suspected ISIL members last month, Iraq's military said. More such handovers are expected under an agreement to transfer some 500 detainees held by the Kurdish-led SDF.
Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said Iraq would either help repatriate non-Iraqi ISIL detainees to their home countries or prosecute those suspected of having committed crimes against Iraq and Iraqis.
'Iraqi law will take precedence'
Salih's remarks were the first public comments confirming that foreign ISIL fighters could face execution in Iraq. He was speaking to the paper at the Sulaimani Forum in Sulaymaniyah, northern 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.
But Salih did not expect to have to deal with all ISIL 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 SDF is driving ISIL fighters 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".
On Wednesday, a senior commander for the group said that hundreds of ISIL soldiers had surrendered from the last shred of territory they controlled in the eastern Syrian village of Baghouz, in Deir Az Zor province.
Salih said Iraq faces many challenges, including rebuilding after decades of conflict and sanctions. He said not much of the $30bn pledged at the Kuwait conference over a year ago for recovery had been allocated. Lack of security and a framework for financial delivery were partially responsible for the delays.
Even so, the Iraqi president said with the end if ISIL, the country was ripe for development and the international community recognises the need for a strong, stable country.
"There is a sense of renewed optimism about Iraq, both internally and internationally,” he said. “And it is incumbent on us as this new team leading Iraq to move and push forward the Iraqi agenda that we consider to be vital for a new regional order based on economic integration and collaboration among the nations of the region, but also internationally in the fight against extremism."
He refuted the claim by US President Donald Trump's that US forces are in Iraq to keep an eye on neighbouring Iran.
"The United States is an ally and supported us in our war on terrorism. The forces in Iraq are here based on an agreement with the government of Iraq to train and assist in the fight against terrorism, there are no combat troops or US bases here," Salih said.
"The specific aim is to fight terrorism - any other reason is unacceptable to us. We have spoken to the Americans and they understand that."
As SDF forces try to finish the military battle with ISIL in neighbouring Syria, Salih said the ultimate solution wouldn't be found through fighting.
"There is no option except a political option to end the war,” he said. “I have told all the leaders of the region who I have met the same thing and they all agree. What happened in Syria was a catastrophe for Syria and its people but also for the region."