British diplomats seek access to Irish man in Iraqi prison

Laois native Joshua Molloy (24) was detained after fighting with Kurdish forces in Syria

Joshua Molloy (24), who has been detained in Iraq.

Joshua Molloy (24), who has been detained in Iraq.

 

British diplomats are seeking access to an Irish man and two British citizens who were detained in Iraq after fighting with Kurdish forces against Islamic State in Syria.

Joshua Molloy (24) from Co Laois, a former soldier in the British army, was arrested last Friday with the two British men as they crossed from Syria into Iraq.

They are being held at a prison in Erbil, capital of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region.

A British foreign office spokesman said it had been in contact with authorities in Iraq following the arrests.

It is understood Britain’s vice-consul was seeking to gain access to the men and check on their condition.

Ireland has no diplomatic presence in Iraq.

The three are thought to have fought with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), a force of some 25,000-50,000 which is resisting Islamic State, also known as Isis, and seeking to secure Kurdish control of territory in northern Syria.

Conditions

Mark CampbellJoe Ackerman

More than 200 westerners are believed to have fought with the YPG during the five-year Syrian war, but reliable figures are not available.

The YPG has actively sought to recruit foreigners online.

Its social media offshoot, the Lions of Rojava, publishes regular posts in English on the activities of its foreign fighters and has become the chief online contact point for would-be volunteers.

Mr Molloy grew up in Ballylinan, Co Laois, and after school he enlisted in the British Army’s Royal Irish Regiment, where he served for four years.

One of the other men, Mr Ackerman, was also a British soldier, while the third, Mr Holmes, was an IT worker who apparently had no military training before going to Syria.

Forces

Turkey

Aaron Stein, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, who has studied the phenomenon, said some western YPG recruits gravitated towards the group’s self-portrayal as the vanguard of the fight against Isis and its emphasis on protecting minority communities.

“A strong pull does appear to be protecting Christians,” he said.

In the US and UK, he added, YPG attracted many ex-soldiers who had been involved in the Iraq war and “were drawn back into what they feel is service to their previous mission”.

The military impact of a relatively small number of foreigners in a fighting force of up to 50,000 remains unclear, but their presence has been an important element of the YPG’s media strategy.

“The YPG in the beginning used these guys to great effect for propaganda purposes – sort of a counterweight to the narrative that Isis was pulling in westerners to fight for their caliphate,” Mr Stein said.

“These were people who were fighting for, in their words, religious tolerance, freedom – everything the YPG wanted to present itself as, because it was looking for global recognition and support.”