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US-backed Syrian forces deny deal to send Islamic State captives to Iraq

SDF spokesman rejects recent statements by Iraqi officials saying there was a deal to handover fighters and their families
SDF forces with captured Islamic State banner (MEE/Thea Pedersen)

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has denied they have any agreement to hand over captured Iraqi Islamic State (IS) fighters or their families to Iraq.

SDF spokesman Kino Gabriel on Friday cited Iraqi officials as issuing statements in recent days saying there was a deal to hand the fighters and their family members to Baghdad.

"[The SDF] denies the validity of these statements and clarifies that there is no such agreement with the Iraqi government," Gabriel said in a statement tweeted by the SDF.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said on Monday that about 2,000 Iraqis in Syria, including women and children who had fled the last IS enclave, were expected to be sent home within weeks under an agreement with Baghdad.

Iraqi officials said last month that the SDF, which is trying to take Baghouz, IS's last enclave in eastern Syria, had handed over 280 Iraqi and foreign detainees to its military and there was an agreement to transfer more captive fighters.

In October, Human Rights Watch said US forces had been handing over suspected foreign members of IS captured in Syria to authorities in Iraq, where it said they faced torture and botched trials.

France brings back children

The SDF statement came as France said on Friday that it had brought back five young children from camps in northern Syria, but repeated its position that adult citizens who had joined IS abroad should stay where they were and face justice.

The children were either orphans or unaccompanied in the camps, the foreign ministry said in a statement. 

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It did not give any details on their links to France, the Reuters news agency reported.

Western nations have been wrestling with how to handle suspected fighters and their families seeking to return from combat zones in Iraq and Syria, as well as those in detention, as IS teeters on the verge of defeat.

The SDF has accused some countries of not doing enough to take back their own citizens.

French government policy had been to refuse to take back fighters and their wives. 

But officials say US President Donald Trump's announcement in December that he was pulling troops out of Syria is forcing a rethink and there are still no signs of a clear way forward.

Tens of thousands of people have flooded out of Baghouz and nearby areas since the SDF began a "final assault" there last month, including large numbers of IS supporters, some of them Iraqis, and their family members.

The exodus has created a humanitarian crisis at displacement camps designed for far smaller numbers of people.