International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that on August 5, 2019, the 30th Brigade of the Hashid al-Shaabi militia violently resisted efforts by the Iraqi Army to take control over the militia's checkpoints.
Last month, the Central Government called for the integration of Hashid and other Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) militias into Iraq's formal armed forces. A deadline of July 31 was established, and Hashid was supposed to withdraw from the Nineveh Plains. Hashid, which is backed by Iran, refused.
"Today, since the morning, the military (Iraqi Army) drove toward Mosul and the areas which are under Brigade 30 -- Hashid control. Legally, Brigade 30 is supposed to be under PMF control, but in reality they are fighting the Iraqi Army. The gathered people who have a commitment to Hashid are blocking the road," said Ziyad, a local Christian resident.
Many of the protestors and members of Brigade 30 belong to the Shabak, an ethnic group that receives support from Iran. The protestors blocked the road from Mosul to Erbil by burning tires, building barriers of trees, and pelting stones at the Iraqi Army.
The conflict occurred near Qeraqosh, which was the largest Christian city in Iraq prior to ISIS. Threats of violence have deterred many Christians from returning home. "Today, there were no grocery shops opened in Qeraqosh due to blocking," said one resident. "Also, you can neither go to Erbil nor to Mosul."
Another resident, Matthew, further explained the situation, "Wa'ad Qado and his group at Brigade 30 are losing and they are breathing their final breath. I think what is happening today is a good reason for anyone from the Iraqi government, and for the prime minister, to show the world the real face of Hashid, the political Hashid and the leadership of Hashid."
The government has not yet issued an official response regarding today's violence.
"Christians suffered a lot because of the support the Shabak gets from the militia. It was good to have the Nineveh Protection Unit (a local Christian militia) at some point, but still they are not as equipped as the Iranian militia," Matthew added.
The 30th Brigade's commander, Wa'ad Qado, was recently sanctioned by the United States for egregious human rights abuses. The militia was initially formed under the mandate to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS), but had become entrenched in areas previously under the extremists' control. Hashid has established a reputation for extorting and harassing victims of ISIS's genocide.
Claire Evans, ICC's Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, "Today's violence underscores how volatile the security situation remains in the Nineveh Plains. This was the homeland of Iraq's Christians. But after displacement by ISIS, it has become the testing ground for various outside groups to assert their authority. It is not simply enough for Hashid to leave the Nineveh Plains. Rule of law and due process must take root in the Nineveh Plains. Otherwise, the security situation will remain captive to the special interests of whomever has the largest strength in the province. Iraq's Christians have made it clear that this type of captivity is a significant motivator for why so many have fled the country."