A three-month old baby shouldn’t look like this. It shouldn’t be a tiny, motionless bundle with feeble, wrinkled skin stretched over its bones. It shouldn’t have to be kept alive with a feeding tube and intravenous fluids in an incubator.
The baby’s name is Saifullah, or “Sword of God,” and that is almost all the nurse knows about it. At least it survived the first three days, says the doctor. Statistically speaking, that is cause for optimism. For the 20 to 30 children and infants that arrive each day at this hospital in the Kurdish-controlled city of Al-Hasakah, Syria, the biggest danger is that they’ll be “dead on arrival.” The name of the hospital cannot be disclosed due to safety concerns. The same goes for the name of the doctor.
This is where the weakest and most innocent members of Islamic State are taken — the sick children of the caliphate. The adults who remain loyal to the group were locked for months in a game of cat-and-mouse with Kurdish-commanded militias around their last remaining refuge in the eastern Syrian village of Baghouz. The vast territory once under control of IS — which at one point covered roughly the same area as Jordan — is now gone, the last of the extremist fighters having been dislodged over the weekend.