Iraq: intimidation of Nineveh Plain Christians

Iraqi Christians asked us to pray for the town of Bartella, a predominantly Christian town in the Nineveh Plains, east of Mosul, where Christian communities are facing growing intimidation and threats from ethnically Shabak militias.

Bartella was among the towns from which thousands of Christians were forced to flee in August 2014 as Daesh (Islamic State) violently seized control of the area. In late 2016 the area was ‘liberated’ from Daesh control. While some towns have seen significant numbers of Christian returnees, comparatively few have returned to Bartella due to ongoing security fears. 

Bartella has long had a Shabak minority (Shi’a Muslim) which now seems to be seeking to extend its control through a campaign of violence and intimidation. A Shabak militia, Popular Mobilisation Unit Brigade 30, controls Bartella and the surrounding area. Popular Mobilisation Units are state-sanctioned militias that contributed significantly to the area’s liberation from Daesh.

On May 13, two elderly Christians, a mother (89) and daughter (69), were violently assaulted in their home. Jewellery and other valuables were stolen and both women were hospitalised. The police arrested two suspects. Christians view the incident as part of a systematic campaign against Christians which aims to change the area’s demographic composition.

Although there are legal protections against the sale of land from one ethnic community to another, religious and political Christian leaders increasingly complain that properties of Christians have been fraudulently or forcibly appropriated. They also note a rapid growth in the establishment of Islamic institutions in Bartella and nearby towns.

In July, Iraq’s Prime Minister ordered the integration of the Popular Mobilisation Units into Iraq’s regular army. Members of Brigade 30 rejected this order and in recent days have staged violent demonstrations. National army and police personnel have withdrawn after being attacked. High-ranking Shabak leaders have accused Christians of collusion with the Prime Minister in making this order, which will weaken the Shabaks’ current level of autonomy. Shabak leaders have used highly threatening language and have promised “rivers of blood” if they are forced to cede areas currently under their control.

Source: Middle East Concern