Nineveh Plains Transitional Justice Report: August | Persecution

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Nineveh Plains Transitional Justice Report: August

By Claire Evans

08/31/2020 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern)August marks the six-year anniversary since the Islamic State (ISIS) invaded Iraq’s Nineveh Governorate. Although ISIS was declared militarily defeated in 2017, many of those who escaped ISIS remain entrapped within a prison of consequences. While the governorate has seen improvement in some areas, many residents’ overall perspective remains one of prolonged helplessness.

Organization

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that there had been 5,843 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Nineveh Governorate by the end of August, with 1,923 still active and 169 fatalities. Compared to the previous month, this represents a more than doubled increased across each of these categories. The pandemic continues causing substantial life disruptions, which many find discouraging. “A lot of projects and shops shut off their doors since the pandemic started,” says one resident

During a recent UN report, it was stated that poverty in Iraq has increased by over 10%, with one-third of Iraqis living below the poverty line. The impact is felt heavily within Nineveh, where residents are attempting to rebuild their lives following displacement from ISIS. As many residents point out, reconstruction has primarily been driven by humanitarian aid organizations rather than through the authorities. This perception of abdicated responsibility on the authorities’ part is felt heavily under pandemic conditions since many organizations already struggle with freedom of movement. It is an environment that makes the government’s behaviors even more noticeable.

“I think Christians don’t have good representatives at the government,” says one woman. “Also, they are divided, that makes things more complicated when it relates to Christian rights. ISIS focused on destroying Christian history in Mosul. Both Christian clergy and politicians should bring efforts together to build that back and fix what ISIS destroyed.”

But many residents are quick to point out that rather than fixing what was destroyed, the government seems incapable of preventing future destruction. “My reading of the situation in the Nineveh Plains is that it is bad politically. Control of Shia militias over the Nineveh Plains area became the replacement of ISIS. The term ‘liberation of the Nineveh Plains’ that the government has used since 2017 is not real. Liberation means peace, independence, and prosperity. People who live in Nineveh Plains suffer control of the militias over their area,” explained a resident.

He continued, “I phrase it this way: we succeeded not to defeat terrorism. But to replace it with Iranian dominance. We couldn’t improve the economy; there are no jobs and no investment. Because whoever wants to invest looks for security.”

Another added, “We as minorities don’t care. We don’t have a place to live here. The game is among the Sunni, the Shia, and the Kurds. They are distributing the high positions in the government among themselves. I couldn’t find a politician who cares about people’s needs or encourages good work.”

Polarization

While many statements were made recognizing the impact of ISIS’s genocide, the content of several was also polarizing. For example, the KRG’s president issued a statement acknowledging the tragedy while also saying that, “we reiterate that the Kurdistan Region will continue its efforts to restore peace and stability in Shingal (Sinjar), reconstruct it and turn the area into a governorate… We honor the memories of the Peshmerga heroes who sacrificed their lives to liberate Shingal under the direct leadership of President Masoud Barzani.”

An Amnesty International report published days prior noted that “In the IS offensive, hundreds of fighters moved into the Sinjar region. They faced little or no resistance, as the Peshmerga forces, the armed forces of the Kurdistan Regional Government, had withdrawn shortly before the campaign.”

An Assyrian activist responded to the KRG statement, “For me, the Yazidi Genocide represents the culmination of over a decade of rewarding failure with a blank chequebook. To give carte blanche to the KRG in security, politics, economics to exert its influence over Yazidis and Assyrians across Nineveh set the scene for this atrocity.”

Comments by Iraq’s Central Government was also met with similar responses. President Salih stated, “We stress the importance of holding those accountable who caused the ISIS invasion of Iraqi villages and cities.” He also emphasized the need to resolve political and security issues. “Security and stability” would encourage returnees.

The Prime Minister would say, “We are serious about providing assistance to our Christian families and solving their problems. We are glad that Christians will return to Iraq and contribute to its reconstruction. Iraqis of all sects are yearning for a new Iraq that believes in peace and rejects violence.”

But Christians pointed out that they already contribute to reconstruction—it is the Central Government who is not. “After liberation, the government didn’t show up,” said one Christian whose house was burnt by ISIS. “Humanitarian organizations did all the rebuilding. The role of organizations was huge in bringing life into Qeraqosh once again after ISIS.”

“The Iraqi government since 2017 promised people in the Nineveh Plains to maintain public services to the area, clean water, and electricity,” added another. “Yet the public services are getting worse with time. Instead, they build a symbolic school in Bartella that refers to Iran! It cannot be there since Bartella used to be a Christian village.” 

Another further shared, “There were some activities after liberation to make Qeraqosh look better, like planting trees at some of the main roads. But that’s far away from what is really needed. I mean, the need is much more than this. The local governorate paved some streets, but that could only be 10% of the need.”

Statements recognizing the genocide are essential. But without acknowledging the mistakes which contributed to the genocide, and without following through on liberation promises, such comments often fall flat and are instead more polarizing to the impacted community.

Investigation

Before the official recognition of the ISIS genocide, Iraqi media reported that Nineveh’s former operations commander was temporarily released from prison. Lieutenant General Mahdi al-Gharawi is accused of having responsibility for the fall of Mosul in 2014. However, his posting to Nineveh years earlier was also a point of controversy. He was under international pressure for severe human rights violations but escaped prosecution because of a loophole. He was then appointed to Nineveh, leaving an already vulnerable community to deal with the impact of a security leader who had serious sectarian issues. In this context, al-Gharawi’s temporary release—especially so close to the anniversary of the ISIS genocide—makes faith in Iraq’s judicial system difficult.

According to a report released by the United Nations Investigative Team for Accountability of Da’esh (UNITAD), 160 individuals affiliated with ISIS have been identified and could be held accountable. The report also noted that UNITAD had excavated 17 mass graves in and around the village of Kojo.

A separate announcement from the authorities said that 38 of the 62 Yazidi remains discovered in Kojo before COVID-19 have been identified. The pandemic had delayed much of this process, especially since the forensics are referred to Baghdad. The KRG’s Kidnapped Yazidis Rescue Office also announced that 3,543 kidnapped Yazidis had been rescued, and approximately 2,800 are still missing.

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