Nineveh Plains Transitional Justice Report: March

04/05/2021 Iraq (International Christian Concern)Pope Francis’ apostolic journey to Iraq this past March was long awaited, anticipated, and welcomed by the country. His visit dominated the news and defined many of Nineveh’s activities. With mere weeks now having passed since his visit, the landscape of its impact is only beginning to emerge.

Security Challenges

A notable side effect of the papal visit was an increase of Iran and Turkey’s promotional content which justifies their roles within Iraq. Both countries have taken military postures inside the country, albeit on opposite sides, and have taken a keen interest in Nineveh.

Iranian state news used the opportunity to boast about their role in defeating ISIS. “Had it not been for sacrifices that the martyrs Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi Muhandis made, the Pope could not be in Iraq today,” Mehr News Agency quoted from a speaker parliamentarian aid. Iranian backed Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) were influential in removing ISIS from the Nineveh Plains, but then became engrained there and facilitated demographic change as well as other human rights abuses. The assassination of Soleimani and Muhandis last year prompted a temporary restriction of militias by the Iraqi authorities, but it was a short-lived exercise.

Said one Christian, “The Shia consider the pope’s visit as victory from a very eastern mentality, the victory is that the pope went to Sistani not the other way. Militias are focused on the coming election, they’ve been doing a lot to terrify civilians, kidnap leaders and create real mess, the strategy is to make the society weak by any means. I think the militias approach now is that if they are able to get more parliament seats they will take over the Nineveh Plains, so Nineveh is not the priority now.”

Though not as dominate a force in Nineveh as Iran, Turkey is active in the country and does conduct military activities in the Sinjar region. Turkey has taken a noteworthy interest in Nineveh, which is frequently under discussion in their state press, prompting some concern about the meaning of such publications given Turkey’s policy of expansionism into new territories. Turkish press, most of which is influenced by the state, confirmed how the pope’s visit to the Shia could fuel sectarianism.

“The Pope’s visit to Iraq can also be said to contain subtle messages for Turkey. In fact, the Pope’s highly symbolic statements and talks during his visit can be assessed as a message to Turkey, implying overall that they definitely do not desire to see the region being shaped by a powerful Sunni country like Turkey. Indeed, Sunnis and Sunnism in Iraq were besieged from all sides up until a few years ago; now it is even worse: they have been on the verge of being completely eliminated or neutralized for quite some time,” said the Anadolu Agency.

Even with these security challenges growing on the horizon, there is hope.

“The local government of Qeraqosh represented by the mayor and the municipality with the support of Mosul governor were able to accomplish lot on both security and public services sides. The security is good as long as you are in Qeraqosh, we have the NPU protecting our village,” said a resident.

Additional Challenges

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that there had been 27,389 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Nineveh Governorate by the end of March, with 167 still active and 507 fatalities. This is the third month in a row where the numbers appear improved, or at least stable, depending on the data’s interpretation. There was significant concern that the crowds participating in the Papal visit would become COVID super-spreaders, so the numbers by the end of March for Nineveh at least are encouraging.

In an interview with Iraq Oil Report, Nineveh Governor Najim al-Jibouri shared that the biggest investment opportunities in the province relate to infrastructure. He said, “we are currently mostly working on infrastructure projects: bridges, hospitals and schools. This year we will finish 250 schools. We finished the al-Hurriya bridge and in two or three days from now we will open the third bridge. Then, the Badosh bridge will be opened in May, and we are also working on two other bridges, one of them in the city and the other to the south of the city. We also have al-Qayarahh bridge, 50 to 60 kilometers to the south of Mosul, on a very important strategic road to Erbil, between Mosul and Kurdistan, we are working on that, and in addition, a company is also working on al-Qwier bridge.”

Although infrastructure development has been ongoing since the defeat of ISIS, the speed of development rapidly increased in the days up to the papal visit. Such a discrepancy did not go unnoticed. Mosul Eye, an activist, tweeted, “People in Mosul are doing a mathematical calculation of the reconstruction of Mosul and @Pontifex visit: If the Pope announced a (one week) visit to Mosul every month. Results: all streets will be paved. IDPs will return home. Houses will be rebuilt. 1000s of trees will be planted.”

Even so, the progress is noticeable. Said one local, “five years ago, none of us believed that we would be back from displacement one day, we couldn’t believe our eyes seeing the pope and having a mass in the same church that ISIS took as military base for them and destroyed all the statues, it is exciting to see how the village is recovering day after day”

Others, saw no comparison. Speaking of the Pope’s visit to Mosul and reconstruction there, a former resident said, “visiting Mosul is not connected to Christians returning to Mosul, it is more about jobs and security, but also Christians found better life in the KRG and three years of displacement was more than enough for us to get used to live in Erbil or so.”

For interviews please contact Alison Garcia: press@persecution.org

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