Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

Iraq: The minorities of Nineveh Plain

Posted by Fredsvenn on July 28, 2014

Nineveh plains

All 30 churches and monasteries are under ISIS control. Crosses have been removed from all of them. Many of them have been burned, destroyed and looted. Many are been used as ISIS centers. All non-Sunni communities have been targeted by ISIS. Christian, Yazidi and Shiite religious sites have been destroyed. Turkish and Shabak Shiites have fled from their homes and villages.

A Yazidi temple in the Nineveh plains

A Yazidi temple in the Nineveh plains

The conflict in Iraq is often framed as a struggle between Shias and Sunnis and Arabs and Kurds – but the country is home to a number of minority groups who find themselves caught in the violence and in political bargains beyond their control.

Christians, Turkmen, Yazidis, Shabak, Sabian Mandaeans, Bahais, Kakais and Faili Kurds have lived in Iraq for a very long time – some for centuries, others for thousands of years.

Many of them live in Nineveh, a culturally rich province 250 miles (400km) north-west of Baghdad.

Since the US-led invasion of 2003, Nineveh has been wracked by two parallel conflicts – between the central government and extremist Islamist groups, and the central government and the autonomous Kurdish region.

Persecuted under the Ottomans, Saddam Hussein’s Baathists and nowadays by jihadists, and facing prejudice and intolerance, some of the smaller minority groups, such as the Shabak, Yazidis and Bahais, have led a life of secrecy. This in turn has given rise to misconceptions and suspicions about them, and led to further persecutions.

Sources indicate that Iraqi Christians have been targeted by attacks since the beginning of the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Iraqi Christians are reportedly targeted by armed groups for their perceived alliance or association with the West.

In 2013, Open Doors International’s World Watch List, which is a list of the 50 countries in the world in which “religious persecution” of Christians is the “worst”, ranked Iraq fourth among the countries in which Christians face the most “persecution”.

However, Human Rights Watch notes that organized criminals sometimes pretend to be anti-Christian jihadists even if they have “a real motive of extortion and thievery”. Similarly, the IILHR reports that armed groups that target Christians for murder and kidnapping [for ideological reasons] may also rob them for profit.

Additionally, AsiaNews writes that Christians in northern Iraq are murdered and kidnapped “for the purpose of extortion” and have also been “caught in the crossfire between Arabs, Turkmen and Kurds vying for power and control of the area’s rich oil resources” (7 Jan. 2013).

With the takeover of Mosul, Nineveh’s capital, on 10 June by the Islamic State (formerly known as ISIL),  and the following systematic persecution of Assyrians, Shiites, Yazidis and Shabak – all non-Sunni groups, the minorities in the city fled en mass to the villages in the Nineveh plains or further north to Kurdish cities. Many of them took up arms alongside the Kurdish forces.

Since then, there has been a steady flow of reports of attacks carried out by the Islamists against minority groups and destruction of their places of worship. The Islamic State itself has posted pictures of dozens of historic and religious sites in Nineveh that it demolished, under the pretext that reverence of such sites is heretical.

According to Khedr Doumli, a Yezidi researcher and expert on minority affairs in the region, the descruction included the loss of life and funds, the destruction of “nine ancient shrines, seminaries, churches and archaeological sites,” the payment of ransoms “that have reached around 2 million dollars,” mass emigration and attacks on minority areas including “plundering funds and property in more than 11 Shabaki villages.”

according to Ghazwan Eliyas, head of the Chaldean Cultural Society in Ninevah’s Al-Hamdaniya District: “All churches, libraries, and Christian places have been targeted by ISIS. There are no longer Christians in Mosul.”

The Kurds

The oil-rich, fertile and historic plains of northern and eastern Nineveh have a population of around half a million. Most are Christians, followers of the ancient Mesopotamian Yazidi faith and members of the ethno-religious Shabak community.

The Kurdish Peshmerga has been present here since the US-led invasion in 2003 and is now the force that many residents look to for protection against armed groups.

ISIL forces have launched small-scale attacks on certain targets in Nineveh plains including an attack on Wednesday on Christian-dominated district of Hamdaniya, east of Mosul. But, according to Halgurd Hikmat, a spokesman for the KRG ministry of Peshmerga affairs, the Peshmerga repulsed the attack and prevented ISIL forces from making any avdances.

In recent weeks, the Peshmerga expanded its reach by maintaining control of a key strategic area around Rabia, including a major border crossing between Iraq and Syria.

The KRG has also dispatched thousands more troops to confront any ISIL push towards the Nineveh plains, and has, in effect, consolidated its de-facto grip on the territory.

Such actions in the past would have drawn significant local opposition. There have been tensions between the KRG and segements of the local population over the past decade as Kurds have tried to solidify their control over the Nineveh plains.

Most parts of the disputed territories have suffered from negligence by the Baghdad and Kurdish governments due to their unclear administrative status. Many roads and buildings here appear in need of urgent repair.

But the deadly mix of the rise of ISIL and the ongoing sectarian war between Sunni armed groups and the Shia-dominated Iraqi army has generated unprecedented support for the Peshmerga among vulnerable religious minorities here out of pragmatic considerations.

Kurds, aspiring to build an independent state, welcome the change of heart, having long desired to include the Nineveh plains in such a state.

Iraqi Kurdistan’s President Massoud Barzani has repeatedly said that he regards independence a “natural right” of Kurds – and, as the rest of Iraq descends into even greater carnage, Kurds might be tempted more than ever to push for their independence.

The Nineveh plains have been among a wide swathe of disputed territory, control of which has been contested by both officials in Baghdad and the KRG.

The Peshmerga is now also in control of other disputed areas in Kirkuk, Salahaddin and Diyala.

Caught Between ISIS and the Kurds


On June 25 Kurdish fighters clashed with ISIS in the town of Baghdede (AINA 2014-06-26), also called Baghdede in Assyrian and Qaraqosh in Turkish, an Assyrian town 20 kilometers southeast of Mosul, causing 50,000 Assyrians to flee (AINA 2014-06-26).

Baghdede is the Assyrian name of the town. It is also known as Qaraqosh in Turkish and al-Hamdaniya in Arabic.

A report issued by the Assyrian Federation of Sweden asserts the Kurds provoked the confrontation by entering Sunni Arab villages with bulldozers and attempting to dig trenches. The report states that Kurdish forces, known as the Zerevani militia, arrived on June 24 and began digging trenches in the eastern part of Baghdede. On June 25 they entered the Arab villages, which led to clashes between the Arabs and the Kurds. The Arabs called ISIS and other groups near Mosul for support. The fighting quickly escalated and the two sides began shelling each other.

The Arabs contacted Catholic Archbishop Youhana Boutros Moshe and asked him to convery a truce offer to the Kurds. The Arabs told the Bishop they were fighting the Kurds, not the Assyrians. The commander of the Kurdish militia rejected the truce offer and told the Bishop to tell the Arabs they must leave Baghdede for the shelling to stop.

AINA contacted several sources on the ground in Baghdede to verify this account. According to AINA’sources, the Kurds

  • were building a trench around Baghdede and parts of it went through Arab villages
  • did not allow Arab patients to go into Baghdede for medical treatment
  • told all government employees not to go to work
  • killed some Arabs

The report by the Assyrian Federation of Sweden concludes that this was not an attack initiated by ISIS, but that ISIS and other groups came to the aid of the Sunni Arabs shortly after Kurds entered their villages.

Nearly 80% of the residents of Baghdede (Hamdaniya/Qaraqosh) have returned after fleeing from fighting between ISIS and Kurds. There is still a severe shortage of electricity and water still cut off. Residents are using wells for water. All municipal services have stopped. The same conditions exist for the Assyrian towns of Bartilla, Bashiqa and Bahzany.

Iraq: The minorities of Nineveh Plain

In pictures: Iraq shrines destroyed

PressTV – West targets Christian identity in Mideast via ISIL

Kurds Provoked Confrontation With ISIS in Iraq: Report

ISIS, Kurds Clash Near Assyrian Town, 2000 Assyrian Families Driven From Mosul

Information about the present situation in North Iraq – 23.07.2014

Iraq: Situation of Christians in the north, the Kurdistan region, and Baghdad, including incidents of violence and displacement; government protection (2010-2013)

Syrian Catholic Archbishop Moshe’s appeal to the international community: Save us!

Iraq’s Christians seek refuge with Kurds

Religious minorities facing oppression in ISIS-controlled areas in Iraq: sources

Iraq’s minorities left between scorpions and a hard place

Assyrian International News Agency

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