Nineveh Plains Transitional Justice Report: November

By Claire Evans

12/01/2020 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern)The forced closure of Iraq’s refugee camps has increased, igniting new controversies and an increased sense of urgency among returnees for access to security, infrastructure, and livelihood assistance. Iraq has also come under criticism for conducting the latest mass execution of terrorist suspects. Meanwhile, Nineveh finds itself again disputed even as Baghdad and Erbil begin the implementation of the Sinjar Deal.

Polarization

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that there had been 19,079 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Nineveh Governorate by the end of November, with 2,009 still active and 440 fatalities. Compared to the previous month, this was a slight increase in both active cases and fatalities.

However, WHO’s representative in Iraq warned on November 24 that “We witnessed an increase of 36% in COVID-19 cases in the governorate in the past week alone… The outbreak is an additional burden on available resources and has greatly affected the national capacities needed to accommodate the high numbers of COVID-19 in the province.”

Last month’s Sinjar deal between the Iraq Central Government (ICG) and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) represented a brief warming between the two governments. However, the November renewal of an old dispute highlights some of the difficulties inherent within their relationship. Shi’ite parliamentary members of the ICG called for the removal of constitutional article 140, which refers to Iraq’s disputed territories such as the Nineveh Governorate.

Article 140 required that Iraq hold a referendum for these residents by the year 2007, which would have allowed them to decide whether the ICG or the KRG would administer the territory. However, this was never implemented, and the area remains greatly disputed. For religious minorities living in Nineveh, the inability to resolve this issue is often considered one reason why the Islamic State (ISIS) was able to invade the governorate so quickly. These kinds of events contribute to the sense among locals that their homeland is something that can be taken advantage of for geopolitical purposes.

For example, one resident said, “Life can never go back in these minority areas: Mosul, Sinjar, and the Nineveh Plains. The world’s plan was to get control of Sinjar Mountain as much as possible. This is the best and only place that can target Israel by missiles, according to the latitude and longitude.”

Another views the problems of Nineveh as microscopic for the broader difficulties faced by Iraq. “I don’t think that only Nineveh is a disputed territory. It is funny, but I think Iraq is a disputed area for internationals. Believe me, this is what is happening.”

These circumstances contribute to why many displaced residents have resisted the authorities’ attempts to facilitate their return home. Iraq’s Minister for Immigration and Refugees has accelerated refugee camp closures, intending to have all camps closed by March.

A high-ranking government official involved in the process told ICC, “We are offering a 1,500,000 IQD as a grant for the family who goes back to their area. Also, we offer 500,000 IQD for each family who doesn’t have a house. This should go toward renting another house, in addition to the monthly food parcels we distribute each month. We are also working closely with organizations to rebuild the destroyed and burnt houses, in addition to building infrastructures.”

Some members of Iraq’s High Committee on Human Rights have criticized the decision to close these camps. Some critics also argue that by forcing people to return home in areas incapable of supporting them, the authorities are creating an opportunity for new security problems. There has been no confirmation of long-term plans to help families who return because the government may change next year following an early election.

Many efforts from various programs have focused on Mosul to encourage the return of the city’s population. News reported that two hundred Christian families have returned to Mosul in November, but other Christians met this news with apprehension. For example, a Christian lawyer said, “we will never go back to Mosul. It is impossible for Christians to live there again. It is not because of ISIS. Even before that, we were targeted and persecuted. We thought this would change until we got ISIS, but that was the last thing we can undertake. I don’t have any good memories of Mosul.”

IOM Return Index highlights for November measured the severity of conditions in locations and returns. In Nineveh, most of the governorate east of Mosul rated in the low severity category, whereas most of the governorate west of Mosul rated in medium to high severity.

ISIS Response and Investigation

Baghdad and international partners have endorsed the three-year extension of the UNDP’s flagship program in Iraq, the Funding Facility for Stabilization (FFS).  This program is managed by the United Nations. It requires $660 million to cover the priority needs of areas liberated from ISIS, including Nineveh, the governorate previously home to most of the country’s religious minorities.

The extended program includes an exit strategy in 2023, which would hand over the implementation of stabilization activities to Iraq’s Central Government. It would focus on areas that have experienced few returns, prioritizing infrastructure rehabilitation, and sustainable livelihood activities. The program began in 2015 and has mobilized $1.3 billion to date.

The population generally welcomes such programs. One recipient shared, “I think Iraq can recover with simple but effective help. Iraq will need international help forever unless there is support to get rid of Iranian arms in Iraq. It doesn’t make sense to keep spending millions of dollars in aid. This can’t be forever. Livelihood and security go parallel. Each one of them can bring the other. If we have security, we can have investments without hesitation.”

Meanwhile, the investigation into the crimes of ISIS continues. Iraq is seeking to open al-Khasfa tomb in northern Nineveh, where 2,000 bodies of civilians killed by ISIS are buried. Iraq faced some criticism after a mass hanging of 21 convicted terrorists, including those who were involved in attacks in Nineveh. Some critics argue that Iraq’s judicial response lacks due process towards those believed to have participated in ISIS’s genocide.

Amnesty International stated, “At a time when the authorities are pressing ahead to close the chapter of the conflict with IS, they should ensure they are not doing so by perpetuating the sort of actions that have been highlighted as the seeds of previous cycles of violence – which yesterday’s tragic execution is a stark example of.”

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