Mezadivan clearly belongs to the final category, which appears to be the smallest. When asked what was good about IS, he says: "We were going to heaven, where we'd get women and even be friends with the Prophet Muhammad." And now? "I believed it then. Now I think they're just stories."

Now he is sorry about the many people he killed in battle, or so he says. But his clothes and his stance tell a different story. The way he still slips excerpts from the Koran into his speech. And how he suddenly defends IS, adamantly denying the group gave its fighters drugs to ward off fear. "That's not how they were. Those are stories. The Koran says you are stupid if you do not feel fear." Only to add, quite illogically: "It doesn't make any difference to me if I die or not."

Jihadist dream interpretation

Even the book he borrowed from the prison library this week makes it clear IS is still in his system. "I dream a lot. So I took a book that explains dreams." For radical Muslim groups like al-Qaida and IS, interpreting dreams is a serious matter because of their presumed predictive nature.

He is also still extremely negative toward the Shia militias he once fought. They are the reason he will not go back to Mosul after being released. "The city is in the hands of the Hashd and they are all criminals."

And how is his family there? "They are well." He does not mention that they will likely not want him back, for fear of the whole family being expelled from the community due to his ties to IS.

IS fighters arrested by pershmerga units near Kirkuk in October 2017 (photo: Reuters)
Militarily defeated, but still active: cells of the IS-Jihadists are still present in Iraq, especially in the north and west of the country. In the prisons, de-radicalisation programmes are only successful in a few cases, as the prisons are overcrowded and many former IS fighters are in close contact with each other

Nor does he mention a further powerful reason not to return: he would be rearrested immediately and could be sentenced to death. Baghdad does not recognise the sentences Kurdish prisons mete out to IS fighters; it invariably hands out death sentences to those who fought for the group.

And it's true that his nine-month prison sentence is very lenient in light of his crimes, especially when another youth was given six months just for attending IS training in a mosque. Mezadivan smiles and says he simply answered the judge's questions.

No respect for non-Muslims

Social worker Majid says he feels powerless when it comes to boys like Mezadivan. They are difficult prisoners, partly because prison seems like a hotel to them after the hardships they underwent with IS, or "Daesh" as the locals call the group. "They are not normal prisoners, because Daesh used them to spy on each other and because all they care about is paradise. Daesh messed with their minds."

They have no respect for the guards or for the social workers, whom they consider unbelievers. "They say: 'You are not Muslims, you have it all wrong. We must go back to the time of the Prophet. Things will only be okay, if the whole world turns Muslim.'"

Yet Majid and his colleagues do not falter in their efforts to disentangle the youngsters from radical Islam. "We keep them busy," he explains. And there are courses, computers, books, football. And discussions with specially selected young imams. They seem to reach the boys better, he says: "We do not want any old sheik with old-fashioned ideas." They also offer music, which was forbidden under IS. The musician who teaches piano and guitar is surprisingly popular with most of the boys, says Majid.

UNICEF and other international organisations provide training for Majid and his colleagues in de-radicalisation. But the prison is overpopulated and there is no way to prevent the hard-liners from sitting together and continuing the radicalisation process started by IS. A dangerous situation, given that IS was born in Iraqi prisons after the demise of al-Qaida in Iraq.

When asked how "safe" youths like Mezadivan are after they have completed their sentences, Majid appears pessimistic. "We always recommend that the security police keep an eye on them, because we believe they will go back to Daesh. Even after 10 years in prison."

Judit Neurink

© Deutsche Welle 2018

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