Iraq’s government has allegedly offered to commute death sentences handed down to French ISIS members captured in that country, in return for military equipment and millions of dollars.
The French government has not commented on French media reports making that claim, although Paris has made clear its opposition to capital punishment of its citizens, even if they did join and fight for the Sunni terrorist group.
Iraqi courts have sentenced to death at least 11 French citizens who traveled to Iraq or Syria to join ISIS.
French newspapers reported this week that Iraqi authorities have offered to commute the sentences to life imprisonment, at a price.
According to Le Parisien daily, Iraq proposed $2 billion for commuting the French convicts’ sentences. It cites sources in Iraq as saying the Iraqis also proposed that France provide weapons and espionage equipment.
Recently the Paris-based weekly papier Courrier International also reported that Iraq, whose courts have already sentenced hundreds of men and women for ISIS activities, has proposed that their countries of origin pay for sentences to be commuted. Last year Iraqi courts reportedly handed down a total of 271 death sentences.
Baghdad has also reportedly offered to take and put on trial captured ISIS members being held by Kurds in Syria.
Wassim Nasr, a journalist here specializing in jihadism, said he could not confirm the money proposals, but said Iraq would be “well advised to take advantage of this uncomfortable situation for the Western powers, France in particular, and ask for something in exchange.”
Nasr said using its leverage in this way would be in Iraq’s interest, particularly as the region was “very unstable” at present, and Iraq needs to be prepared for the possibility of conflict between Iran and the U.S., which would leave it “in a very bad position.”
President Emmanuel Macron last week asked Iraq to commute the death sentences of the jihadists, and government officials have referred to high-level “intervention” – but without indicating whether France would be prepared to negotiate behind the scenes in the way the media reports claim.
Meanwhile the French arm of an international anti-death penalty NGO, Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT), said the French government should do all in its power “to prevent the execution of its nationals.”
“The duty of protection of the French state towards its nationals cannot be different according to what they did and where they committed crimes,” it said in a statement.
ACAT France representative Nathalie Seff said by phone the group has no knowledge of any negotiations between Iraq and France over the death row prisoners, but said it “would condemn it if it were true.”
She said ACAT’s work around the world aims to have the death penalty abolished everywhere.
Capital punishment has been outlawed in France and all of the European Union, in line with the European Convention on Human Rights.
According to Amnesty International, Iraq carried out 52 executions last year, and 125 in 2017.
Polls have found that a majority of French citizens are opposed to French ISIS fighters being returned from the Middle East for trial in France. They are in favor of repatriating their children, whom they consider innocent. Even conservative lawmakers have supported the children’s return.
On Tuesday, Turkey handed over to France nine French children and three adults – a 35-year-old man and two women said to be his wives. The adults are in the custody of the internal security service, and are expected to stand trial.
Last Sunday, 12 children from jihadists’ families arrived in France from Kurd-controlled northeastern Syria, according to the French foreign ministry.
According to NGOs, 95 children of jihadists have been brought back to France since 2015. Most are now in foster care and their identities are not being made public.