Reclaiming the Nineveh Plains: Part 1

Transforming Tunnels into Farmland 

07/26/2018 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – The Nineveh Plains, the traditional homeland of Iraq’s Christians, was left devastated by ISIS’s occupation. The militants sought to eradicate Christianity by controlling the Plains.

During their multi-year occupation, they lived inside the homes of Christians and dug hidden tunnels, allowing them to move discretely from one location to the next. These tunnels helped them expand their territory with little resistance, and also destroyed the Nineveh Plains’ fertile land. When ISIS finally abandoned the Nineveh Plains, they placed mines throughout the tunnels to discourage Christians from returning.

Milad is one of the many Christians who lost his home and land to ISIS. While this was his family’s first displacement, he is no stranger to the violence that plagues Iraq. “I took the displacement easy, but my family didn’t,” Milad said. “Actually, ISIS’s attack was the third time I lost my home.”

Milad is originally from southern Iraq, where many Christians used to live decades ago. It is common for Christians to be specifically targeted during periods of national violence, southern Iraqi Christians being no exception.

 “The first time [I was displaced] was in 1991, when Iraq attacked Kuwait and later protested in the south against Saddam,” explained Milad. “I left because I was living in Hilla, and after few months I went back to Hilla and found out that everything was stolen. The second time was in 2003 when the extremists destroyed my alcohol shop in Hilla because it was haram.”

Like many Christians from the south, Milad decided to move to the Nineveh Plains. Because so many Christians have lived here for centuries, it was considered safer. ISIS, however, changed that belief in 2014 when they took control of most of the region.

Before ISIS, Milad was a respected farmer in Qaraqosh. He grew olive trees and wheat, but his prize was his booming livestock business. “I had 55 bulls and 183 sheep. Those animals could be evaluated to more than $60,000,” he told International Christian Concern (ICC). But when ISIS came, “everything was lost. I had a Toyota truck produced in 1989; we all jumped in the car, my sons and their families. Khazer Bridge [alone] took us 90 minutes to pass, cars were everywhere!”

He shared with ICC how he recognized some of the ISIS militants as his neighbors. It was a betrayal that cut deep; regardless, Milad knew that he would return to Qaraqosh someday.

Qaraqosh was liberated from ISIS in 2016. Milad kept his vow to return and began restoring his old farm. Because livestock is an expensive sector to enter into, he decided to focus on his agricultural business. He planted olive trees and began watering them, but was shocked when the earth caved in, revealing a vast ISIS tunnel system hidden underneath his property! Upon closer inspection, he discovered a dangerous mine, which he safely removed.

ICC visited his farm this past spring, where Milad pointed out the damage that was preventing him from watering his farm. “This is the tunnel over here,” he told ICC during the visit. “Here between the trees where I planted greens. When you come [down] here you will find that there is a room underground that includes mattresses and fans. This is the tunnel’s entrance, and there is another entrance on the other side [of the property].”  

The tunnel system not only prevented Milad from managing his farm, but was also a risk to anyone who walked on his property. He was not sure if there were more mines, and the tunnel made the ground unstable and prone to collapse. Milad knew this tunnel needed to be filled in, but he couldn’t afford the process.

Thankfully, Milad knew how to solve the problem. “First of all we will destroy the roof by a digger,” Milad explained. “After that…we need to fix the basement and then we will take the dirt and TEKALA (big stones) out of the hall and fill the tunnel. We need to hire workers to make the land level, and then the watering process will start.”

He had the plan to restore his land, but lacked the resources. After ICC visited his property and learned of his struggles, we decided to partner with Milad in helping him remove this tunnel and rebuild his farm.

Watch for Part 2 of Milad’s story next week.

For interviews with Claire Evans, Regional Manager, please contact Olivia Miller, Communications Coordinator: press@persecution.org

ICC is on a mission to help persecuted Christians. Will you join us?