Nineveh Plains Transitional Justice Report: October
By Claire Evans
11/04/2019 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – The death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on October 26 was followed five days later with an announcement by ISIS via Telegram that Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Qurashi will inherit leadership of the terrorist organization. However, it is believed that the name is a nom de guerre, and no other information is known about his identity. It is unclear how this choice will come to define ISIS. However, religious minorities warn that ISIS will continue its extremist violence.
“It is important to remember that even though Baghdadi is personally dead, it will be a tremendous mistake to consider ISIS, the ideology, or the tens of thousands of ISIS members as no longer a threat. It is still a threat, and complacency is not a good option,” said the Free Yazidi Foundation.
“The killing of al-Baghdadi was expected, but ISIS attacks in Iraq, like the killing of the head of the ID in Diyala, are a bad indication about ISIS still being in Iraq,” Fadi, another Iraqi Christian, explained to International Christian Concern (ICC).
Attempts to disrupt the organization of ISIS continue throughout Iraq. The Interior Ministry announced the arrests of 22 suspected ISIS members in the Nineveh Plains. Although the rest of the country is engulfed in protests, it is worth noting that this number is on par with reports from previous months.
Upheaval in the Nineveh Plains came from a combination of both national protests and the implications of the Syrian crisis. Protests have not heavily featured in the Nineveh Plains, although the province remains affected by the unrest defining the remainder of Iraq. Protesters are generally demanding public accountability, job creation, and infrastructure development. These demands resonate deeply with those living in the Nineveh Plains, as the occupation of ISIS further exacerbated these deeply engrained problems.
There have been sporadic bursts of communal support for protesters, such as Christians in al-Qosh gathering to show their unity with the protestors. However, these kinds of gatherings pale in comparison to what the rest of the nation is experiencing.
Some locals report that priests in the Nineveh Plains are discouraging these activities. Some have expressed relief that local Shia militias have found their immediate priorities redirected. For example, one Qeraqosh resident explained to ICC, “We are not paying any attention for the demonstrations. Shabak Shia will be busy fighting in Baghdad.”
Others have expressed concern that protesting in the Nineveh Plains would be misinterpreted as intentionally creating security lapses for the benefit of an ISIS resurgence. “Mosul is a part of Iraq, the most underserved city… The people of Mosul are afraid to take to the streets and demonstrate because immediately they will be accused of being ISIS, so they prefer to stick to their homes,” said one current resident to a local news outlet.
“We are Christians of the Nineveh Plains,” said one local campaign to Ezidi24. “We stand in solidarity with our fellow demonstrators, and we apologize for not demonstrating because our cities are not allowed to demonstrate.”
Meanwhile, as the rest of the country protests, the Nineveh Plains has also turned its attention toward absorbing the implications of a developing crisis in neighboring Syria. Fearing ethnic and religious cleansing, Syrian refugees are moving through this disputed territory to the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). Their fears echo those of Nineveh Plains residents during the ISIS occupation, who also sought refuge in the KRG.
Syrian refugees are entering Nineveh through villages just north of Sinjar, where ISIS committed genocide against the local Yazidi population. The governor of Nineveh visited the border out of concern that an influx of refugees could hide an infiltration of ISIS insurgents. According to an anonymous security source reported by local news, “The aim of the deployments is to secure the border in anticipation of the influx of Syrian refugees and also to deter any attempts by ISIS fugitives to infiltrate Nineveh.”
Foreign Policy Magazine released a transitional justice survey of 400 current Mosul residents and 200 internally displaced persons (IDPs) who have a family member affiliated with ISIS. The survey explored the perspectives of these individuals regarding how the justice system should treat noncombatant ISIS supporters and ISIS fighters. Mosul residents were more inclined to promote the death penalty for noncombatants, whereas IDPs were more inclined to promote amnesty. Both groups acknowledged that fighters will not surrender for judicial due process without an incentive. The survey warned that at least 40% of Mosul residents expressed no concern regarding retribution killings outside of the judicial system.
Yazidi and Christian victims of ISIS also maintain mixed feelings regarding transitional justice issues. Leadership figures encourage victims to pursue solutions through the legal system. For example, Yazidi activist Murad Ismael tweeted, “My biggest fear is that the Yazidi genocide will go without open trials. We want to know the details; we want this genocide to be documented; we want victims to be listened to and honored; we want criminals to be dishonored and incarcerated for life.”
Victims express deep frustration with Iraq’s severely inadequate legal system. There is also continued concern about Mosul. As the center of the Nineveh Governorate, it maintains an important administrative function. Trust of residents, however, is limited. “I would treat them even worse if I have authority. They took everything. Their sin is that they stayed where there is ISIS,” said one Christian.
Meanwhile, the judicial process remains burdened by disagreements on who accepts responsibility for housing and prosecuting ISIS militants. The Nineveh Governorate has decided that its prisons can no longer hold the number of suspected ISIS militants. Local authorities are expected to transfer 1,000 prisoners to Abu Ghraib and Taji prisons near Baghdad.
A representative of Nineveh in Iraq’s Parliament said that 200 families of ISIS fighters have been moved from Syria’s infamous al-Hol camp to camps just south of Mosul. Similar transfers may also be forthcoming. European nations gathered in Baghdad to discuss transferring ISIS fighters with European nationalities detained in Syria to Iraq.
The reluctance of foreign nations to accept judicial responsibility for the crimes of their fighters places great strain on Iraq’s already weak legal system. Iraq remains firm that they are not responsible for prosecuting and imprisoning foreign fighters for crimes not committed in Iraq. “We take responsibility for our own citizens, their wives and children,” said Iraq’s foreign minister.