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When the Iraqi army liberated her village from ISIS, Hamda Mahmoud made an agonizing choice. She handed over to Iraqi security forces her own son, who had joined ISIS. She fears her teenager's been executed. And now, as NPR's Jane Arraf reports, her family has been expelled from its home like thousands of other Iraqis.
JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Hamda Mahmoud's son Ahmed was 15 and in fifth grade when he took an oath of allegiance to ISIS two years ago. A lot of even younger boys in their village near Mosul were joining. When he came to the door with a rifle, she says she didn't want to let him in.
HAMDA MAHMOUD: (Through interpreter) He told me, if you don't let me in, I will shoot you with this. I will kill you and the whole family.
ARRAF: Mahmoud is a widow. One of her sons drowned in 2005, and another was killed in an airstrike two years ago. When Ahmed joined ISIS, she had just his older brother left. She tells us this story in a tent made of plastic sheets in a camp for internally displaced people. There's no electricity here, and it's dark inside in the middle of the day. A small kerosene heater warms the tent and the tea. She says for months, she went from one ISIS leader to another, telling them Ahmed was a child and begging them to release him. Instead, they sent him to Syria to fight.
When Ahmed came back four months later, he told his mother ISIS had been lying about its victories and he wanted to quit, and he did. But when the Iraqi army recaptured their village of Imam Gharbi, Mahmoud says she could either have sent him to Mosul to be sheltered by ISIS or do what she did.
MAHMOUD: (Through interpreter) I took him myself to the army. We thought they would maybe put him in jail for a year to punish him.
ARRAF: She says Ahmed agreed that prison would be better than what ISIS would do to him. The police told her everything would be fine. But then Mahmoud says U.S.-trained tribal security forces took over the village. They told her that because Ahmed had been with ISIS, she, her daughter-in-law and her remaining son were not allowed to stay. Ahmed's cousin Shehab and his uncle Mohammad were also expelled from the village. They say in their village of about 5,000 people at least 200 boys and young men joined ISIS.
SHEHAB KHALIL: (Speaking Arabic).
ARRAF: Shehab says a lot of them were killed with ISIS. Mahmoud is a small woman wearing a long brown polyester dress that's too big for her and a faded black headscarf. Her wiry brown hands show years of hard work. The last she heard, Ahmed was in prison.
MAHMOUD: (Through interpreter) They told me they were going to execute him. People are saying they tortured him into confessing a lot of things, but we know he didn't do them. I was told to stop asking about him because it would be bad for us.
ARRAF: The camp is a city of muddy gravel streets and rows and rows of tents. More than 9,000 people live here. It's freezing cold. Almost all the children are coughing. Black smoke from oil wells set on fire by ISIS as it retreated blocks the sun. Camp officials say hundreds of families here have been expelled from their homes, most by the new tribal security forces trained and armed by the United States. A leader of the force tells us they're implementing an agreement by tribal leaders to expel all families of ISIS. And if they've been kicked out, it's a tribal matter. A U.S. commander in the area tells us that when they hear of the tribal force kicking people out of their homes, they raise it with the Iraqi government. In some cases, the government stops paying the fighters.
KHALIL: (Speaking Arabic).
ARRAF: Ahmed's cousin Shehab is from another village near Mosul. Two of his uncles joined ISIS. He says his father, a teacher, refused.
KHALIL: (Through interpreter) The tribal forces came and said, why aren't you leaving? We said, we don't have ISIS in the family. They came and put us in jail and set fire to the car and threatened the women. The next day we left.
ARRAF: Even if they are allowed to go back to their homes, Shehab says they will be blamed for anything that happens in the village, and they could be rounded up and killed. We are marked now, he says. We are outcasts.
Jane Arraf, NPR News, near Gharbiya, northern Iraq.
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