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Christians in the Ninawa Plain fear the presence of Pro-Iran Militias

By MECRA researcher in IRAQ

Place: Baghdad

Date: March 23, 2021

Since the expulsion of ISIS from the Ninawa Plains of Iraq in 2017, local Christian residents of the area have sought to return to their homes. They have been subject to ongoing harassment, however, from militias aligned with the pro-Iran Hashd al-Shaabi, and specifically with the Badr Organization, the oldest and most established of the IRGC-aligned Shia militias in Iraq. This harassment takes many forms, including confiscation of lands, intimidation and extortion. As a result of this reality, many Christians are afraid to return to their homes, and have remained as refugees in the Kurdish Region of Iraq. The plight of these Iraqi Christians, from some of the oldest Christian communities in the world, has remained largely ignored by the global media. MECRA’s Iraq researcher recently carried out a series of interviews with Ninawa Christians and people involved in assisting them, in an effort to find greater detail on the situation. The interviews may be seen below.

Ammar Mosuli, 33, activist and minority consultant in Ninawa Plain

There is large-scale harassment toward Christians by the Hashd Al-Shaabi brigade 30th (Hashd Al-Shabaki – the Shabak are a majority Shia non-Arab ethnic group native to the Ninawa Plains area). There have been incidents of rape and confiscation of properties and lands in Ninawa Plain. They are taking Christian lands, and building houses on them. The Christians have not been ‘liberated’ – rather they are still under the control of the militias.

Hahsd Al-Shabaki claim they are assisting and protecting the Christians. This is a lie. Christian activists and journalists cannot work freely as they wish in Hamdania and Bartella. Bartella was a majority Christian town before the ISIS war, but if you go there now, you will see that only a few Christians have returned. The 30th brigade of Hashd Al-Shabaki is the main force that now controls most of Ninawa plain, Major General Abu Jafa Al-Qado is chief of staff of Hashd Al-Shabaki. He controls Bartella, a part of Hamdania(Qaraqosh), most of Tel-kaif, Sadabaawiza and the north and north west of Ninawa (Badosh).

They have occupied lands belonging to Christians who are outside of Iraq, and are prohibiting Sunnis, Christians and Kurds from rebuilding their houses or returning to their dwellings - only Shia Shabak are permitted to return. When people try to return to their former homes, they are told that because they belong to certain parties or areas, and tribes, they are not allowed.

If they do so they have to receive permission directly from the 30th brigade, otherwise they will be expelled from the area, even if they are in their own house or land. The NPU force (Ninawah Plains Protection Units – a military organization founded by Ninawa Christians,) is very weak. They can't stand against the 30th brigade. The 30th brigade are working even on the Sinjar case now. They have external support and its significant compared to NPU support and capabilities. The 30th brigade is an Iran-affiliated militia. It came out from the Badr organization military section. They even have established an ‘Al-Khomeini’ office in Bartella, of the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps).

The main functions of this office are recruitment, trade taxation in Ninawa plain, Sinjar, south of Kirkuk, taking projects and tenders inside of Mosul and spreading Wilayat al- Faqih ideology (the ideology of the Islamic Republic of Iran) and beliefs. They are working on the Iranian project of building an area of contiguous control from Diyala to south of Kirkuk, to Ninawa plain, to Sinjar and to the Syrian border. Mahmoud Al-Araji is a military commander from Ktaeb Hezbollah movement, and he is the chief of staff of the PMU in Sinjar. Ktaeb Hizbullah has total control of the Sinjar area and of most of the Ninawa area after the Sinjar agreement.

The 30th brigade is a backup force for Iran and other pro-Iran militias when needed, as they control the main entrances of the Ninawa Plain.

On 21/02/2021, Abu Fadak al-Mohammadawi (commander of the Hashd al-Shaabi, a key Iran-aligned figure in Iraq) went to Sinjar and he had a meeting there with leaders of the PKK, Hashd Al-Yazidi, Nujaba leaders from Tel-afar, and an Iranian Quds force official (Rebar Azadi). They reached agreement to support 1500 fighters of Hashd al-Yazidi and PKK forces in Sinjar, to give them new weapons, rockets and military logistical support.

The militias in Sinjar will not be removed and whoever says other than this is lying. A couple of days ago Iraqi army tried to enter the area, and they opened fire on them and didn’t permit them to enter.

After the liberation of Mosul, many Christians returned but they are starting to leave their places of residence again due to lack of government support, and lack of security and law and order. They started to flee again to Kurdistan and outside of Iraq.

Father Shamasha, 34, Christian clergyman in Ninawa Plain

Our main issue is with the disputed area. We don’t know who is with who, or with whom we will be aligned. There is a constant issue between political players regarding who controls this area. Administration differs from one area to another. For example, Tel-Sqef is controlled by the Peshmerga, while Batenaya, about five minutes by car from Tel-Sqef is controlled by the Hashd, as are Qaraqosh and Hamadania areas. We always face issues with these multiple forces and division among them whenever they have issues between them.

Christians in Tel-Sqef and other areas controlled by the Peshmerga have no issues, we are all free to move and work and practice our religion. Sometimes, there are clashes and mistreatment by Hashd al-Shaabi toward Christians but I can't tell you all of details since they are not under my supervision area.

We don’t want anything more than to live like any other nation in the world and be in peace. We want to feel that we belong to the country, and it cares for us. We want a strong government to fight and protect our identity and existence. We want respect in our historical area, and a strong country that can protect us from all these militias and multiple forces and let people live free and move and go wherever they wish to.

Under Peshmerga control, we have peace, and its forces are well organized and with high discipline. It's an official force, under specific command. You have clear orders and a system of military discipline, we know to whom to talk without any discrimination. But that does not exist in the area under the Hashd Al-Shaabi.

In the Kurdistan region we have total freedom and we have more facilities and freedom of movement in all areas, contrary to situation in the area under Hashd Al-Shaabi.

I want all Christian people to return to their area, without fears for their lives, to have rights in their areas, to have a peaceful life, and a decent life. We are not asking too much - just simple rights that everyone should have.

Jousif, age 45 a Christian journalist and teacher, Ninawa plain

When we talk about the Peshmerga we are talking about an organized army with high discipline, and its one military army out there - not multiple forces. But, in the Ninawa plain we have the (Iraqi) army and multiple militias. There are different groups under different names. Christians are still afraid of these militias, as they were in the ISIS era. Christian people fled due to bombs and rape against our families and loved ones.

Now, Qaraqosh and Hamdaniya are surrounded by the Iraqi Army, but they are controlled from within by militias. These militias impose their power and influence through threats and force civilians to be loyal to them or work for them. The Christians are a peaceful community and they like to live in peace.

When I need to leave the town, I am scared because each area is controlled by different militias, and I don't know to whom they are belong to or who they are representing. As a teacher I use my contacts with friends and relatives in the area that I am teaching so I am ok- otherwise I will be facing an issue every time I go there.

Finally, I would say in any country if there is no one army and one force to secure and protect the country, there will not be peace. It's my wish to see the Iraqi army in the checkpoints rather than the militias, whenever we see the militias on the checkpoint we feel scared.

Saosan, age 40, housewife, Ninawa Plain

We want to live in peace, our rights protected, our properties returned and have our previous life as in the past. We wish there was joint coordination between the Iraqi Army and the Peshmerga to protect this area. Otherwise, all people in these areas will flee again to KRI and outside of Iraq. We have 177 families that used to live in this village but now you barely find 50 families returned.

We wish to have the peace and security that we use to have before 2014 when it was under Peshmerga control, because we don't feel safe now and we don't know who is knocking on our doors. We all depend on our God to protect us.

We don't want to have the Hashd here in our area. They are here controlling our area but we don't want them to be here. We prefer the joint forces of the Peshmerga and Iraqi Army. Hashd is hurting our people in our areas.

They are mistreating us constantly at the checkpoints in Ninawa plain that even in some Iraqi army as well. We wish the disputed areas issue to be resolved and returned to its' people.

It's not only my demand. Even the people in Tel-Sqef and elsewhere want to be returned under KRI government. They are saying if the Peshmerga is not going to an area, we won't as well. More than 130 families are waiting for the Peshmerga to be returned to our area so they can come to it as well. They don't trust the Hashd after their treatment in the past against them.

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