The Ninewa Plains are dotted with several Christian towns. They all suffered during the war against the Islamic State with most of the populations fleeing. Since the conflict ended, many of these areas have continued to face problems with getting people to return, rebuilding and rivalries with other communities.
Qaraqosh is one of the main Christian towns found in eastern Ninewa. It was occupied by the Islamic State from August 2014 to October 2016 during which the entire population left. It was liberated by the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and the Christian Ninewa Plains Protection Units, which received training from the Americans, and is affiliated with the Assyrian Democratic Movement. Shortly afterwards the Babylon Brigades set up outside of the town. The Babylon Brigades is made up of Shabaks and Shiite Arabs, worked under the Hashd, and is close to the Badr Organization and Asaib Ahl Al-Haq. That led to a conflict between the two.
In the summer of 2017 the groups clashed. It started when the Ninewa Protection Unit arrested members of the Babylon Brigades for looting. The Brigade raided the Ninewa Protection Unit’s offices in revenge. Bishop Boutrous Mushi called Prime Minister Haidar Abadi to intervene to stop things from escalating. That led the Babylon Brigades being ordered to leave the town by the government, which it did. The war against the Islamic State led to a proliferation of armed groups connected to all different parties both inside and out of Iraq. Many are competing with each other for power and influence, which leads to incidents like that which occurred in Qaraqosh.
Reconstruction is another issue. After Qaraqosh was liberated it was looted and homes were burned by the Iraqi forces. Ironically, the Ninewa Protection Units might have been involved. In rural areas like the Ninewa Plains the government has largely been absent. That has left the church and non-governmental organizations to the task of doing much of the rebuilding. The church for example, set up a committee to go through Qaraqosh to see what it needed, and NGOs and charities have used that data. At the same time, the war and the slow pace of reconstruction has led only half the population to return to the town.
Bartella, which is just east of Mosul, is facing a similar situation. When the Islamic State took over in 2014 all the inhabitants fled. Since then only around one-third of the Christian families have moved back, while almost all the Shabaks have. One reason is because there is tensions between the two communities. A Catholic priest told the Associated Press that many Christians felt that the Shabaks were pushing them out of the town. Shabak Hashd also control security in most of Bartella along with the Ninewa Protection Units. Just like in Qaraqosh the recent war has led to new differences between Christians and Shabaks. This has been made worse because each side now has its own militia. The Shabaks want a new status quo. Christians see that as a threat especially because their population continues to decline. These are just some of the social fissures that have emerged in Iraq in the aftermath of the war.
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Al Ghad Press, “The 50th Brigade clarifies the crisis between the Ninewa Plans and Assyrian forces,” 7/16/17
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Human Rights Watch, “Iraq: Looting, Destruction by Forces Fighting ISIS,” 2/16/17
Iraq Newspaper, “Iraqi Newspaper Reporter: Fierce Battles Between Armed Christian Factions In The Ninewa Plain,” 7/15/17
- “Iraqi Newspaper Reporter In Mosul: The Expulsion Of The Babylon Brigades From Mosul Over Stealing Antiquities,” 7/16/17
Knights, Michael and Kailan, Yousif, “Confidence- and Security-Building Measures in the Nineveh Plains,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy,” 7/14/17
Oader, Histyar, “Iraq’s Christian Militias Not United Against Extremists, Politics Fueling Differences,” Niqash, 9/23/15
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Skelton, Mac and Bahnam, Karam, “The Bishop and the Prime Minister: Mediating Conflict in the Nineveh Pains,” Middle East Centre Blog, The London School of Economics and Political Science, 1/25/19