A United Nations human rights coordinator on Thursday said that Islamic State militants had ordered Iraqi women and children in the city of Mosul to undergo female genital mutilation. Jacqueline Badcock, U.N. resident and humanitarian coordinator, told reporters over a video call from Erbil that the militants had issued a "fatwa," or edict, on the practice.
But once the story went viral on the Internet, many journalists and experts covering Iraq began to push back against the claim. Leila Fadel, Cairo bureau chief for NPR, tweeted that a spokesman for the group, previously known as ISIS, denied the report.
In a follow-up to Badcock's remarks, Reuters reported that "a U.N. spokesman in Geneva said that they were seeking clarity and trying to establish the facts." The office of the United Nations Development Programme in Iraq, where Badcock serves as resident representative, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
One document in Arabic that has been widely circulated on Twitter purportedly shows that the decree is from 2013.
According to Middle East expert and analyst Shiraz Fahel, the document is fake.
“Locals in Mosul, including doctors, say this is just a hoax," he told The Independent. "That’s also my gut feeling.”
More than 125 million women and girls alive today have undergone female genital mutilation, according to the World Health Organization. The practice, which involves the partial or total removal of external female genitalia, is most common in eastern and western Africa and is also prevalent in the Sahel. U.N. statistics reveal that more than 90 percent of women aged 14-49 in Egypt have been cut.
The practice is not, however, nearly as common in Iraq. If Badcock's statement proved to be true, the militant group's order would signal a horrific humanitarian crisis for the nation. As she noted, it would be "something very new for Iraq, particularly in this area."