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Newly free of the Islamic State, Hasakah councilman alleges SDF abuses

The Kurdish YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces, backed by US-led coalition […]

17 March 2016

The Kurdish YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces, backed by US-led coalition airstrikes, took control of the southern Al-Hasakah town of a-Shadadi after heavy fighting late last month, ending two years of Islamic State rule.

Shadadi, surrounded by hundreds of gas and oil wells, lies on a supply route between the Islamic State’s de facto capital of A-Raqqa and their Iraqi stronghold in Mosul.

After the Islamic State was driven out and the SDF came in, one local council member says the latter closed down the town citing “bomb remnants.” What happened next, Emad al-Asaad, a member of the civilian local council in Shadadi tells Syria Direct’s Nisreen A-Nasser, is that “a number of unknown assailants also entered the town and looted many residences.”

Reports of looting and the destruction of houses have left residents mistrustful of the SDF forces currently holding a-Shadadi and “afraid to return home” for fear of “being arrested under the charge of prior affiliations with rebels or IS.”

Both the Islamic State and the Syrian Democratic Forces have turned out to be terrible,” says al-Asaad.

SDF spokesman Talal Silo denies al-Asaad’s accusations that SDF forces prevented residents from returning or destroyed houses. While confirming that looting took place, he tells Syria Direct that “the perpetrators were people from the town.” 

Q: Describe a-Shadadi under the Islamic State.

After rebels initially took control from regime forces in 2013 and the local council was established, the situation was very good. The local council began solving outstanding issues in a-Shadadi and helping the residents.

When IS took control, they put a stop to our work despite the fact that we provided aid to the population. They also refused to coordinate with any actors providing aid.

People suffered, and couldn’t even discuss their situation for fear of repercussions. Any person asking for his rights or standing in opposition to an IS law would be arrested and tried for interfering with IS’s role as aid distributor.

Q: How did a-Shadadi residents make a living under IS?

People worked twice as many hours to make ends meet.

Some worked in crude oil refinement, while others worked in public markets, selling food or household goods. There were bakers, porters, sanitation workers. Some took jobs working for IS as civilian guards.

The salaries people received from these jobs were not sufficient after the price of food increased and IS banned travel to Al-Hasakah city.

Q: What is it like in a-Shadadi now that IS has been driven out?

The war left behind overwhelming destruction. Most residents haven’t returned to their homes until now because of the total absence of services in the city (bakeries, water, et cetera). They are also afraid of being arrested under the charge of prior affiliations with rebels or the Islamic State.

People here are civilians and do not have ties to IS.

Q: What is the situation now? How does the SDF interact with the population?

When the SDF entered the city, a number of unknown assailants also entered the town and looted many residences. Some were completely emptied of their contents.

Residents are still afraid and don’t trust the SDF because of the killing of a number of civilian families.

[Ed.: Unconfirmed reports by pro-opposition sources in Al-Hasakah allege that SDF forces killed five civilians in a nearby village after accusing them of being IS sympathizers last month.]

Most of the city’s population is living on the margins of the city, afraid to return home. The SDF has not provided for the residents, and forced many to leave since storming the area.

Both IS and the SDF have turned out to be terrible. Neither represents the revolution.

Q: Have residents been allowed to enter a-Shadadi and inspect their properties since IS was driven out?

Not at first. The problem is that during the period that they weren’t allowed to enter, unknown people went in and robbed most of the residences and stores. This took place on the SDF’s watch. The SDF kept the population out by stating there are bomb remnants in the city.

The bombing and burning of houses that took place was carried out by the SDF. My house and my sister’s house were destroyed after IS had left the area. Our houses have no association with IS.

[Ed.: Syria Direct could not independently verify this claim. Al-Hasakah residents have previously accused YPG forces of burning and confiscating residences in Arab villages during military campaigns in the northeastern province. An October 2015 report by Amnesty International also described abuses. YPG officials in October denied the allegations, but in January 2016 expelled four fighters for “damaging property of residents” in al-Hawl and neighboring villages in eastern Al-Hasakah, ARA News reported.]

Colonel Talal Silo, SDF spokesman:

Q: Do you have a response to accusations that SDF forces destroyed homes and displaced residents in a-Shadadi?

Of course we didn’t do either of those things. We have more than one media delegation with us. On the day that civilians requested to enter the city of a-Shadadi specifically, they interviewed and spoke with civilians, asking them about their problems.

We allowed residents to return to their residences but those who entered a-Shadadi came in to steal and they were photographed looting the residences. The perpetrators were people from the town.

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