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Contested Control:

The Future of Security in Iraq's Nineveh Plain

June 1, 2020

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The liberation of the Nineveh Plain from the Islamic State provided some reprieve for Assyrians, but security threats and a deep sense of mistrust continue to inhibit the return of internally-displaced persons.

The prospects for Iraq’s most vulnerable peoples after ISIS are tied to the larger framework of Iraqi politics. The Iraqi Government and the KRG do not enjoy a favorable stance among the Assyrians; the Iraqi Government is seen to be largely neglectful of the Assyrians while the KRG is seen to be largely focused on its own ethno-nationalist agenda at the expense of Assyrians and Yazidis. Post-liberation security arrangements have exacerbated their sense of fear and mistrust. Control over the area remains contested between Iraqi security forces, KRG security forces, PMF Brigade 30, PMF Brigade 50, and the Nineveh Plain Protection Units.

Contested control and a legacy of mistrust towards the country’s larger security forces means thousands of displaced persons and refugees, mostly minorities, refuse to return home. For those that have returned, many are wary of what the future holds. Security fears remain high; the post-ISIS dynamic in the Nineveh Plain is not unlike the situation that enabled the Islamic State’s invasion. 


This report examines the failed security policies that enabled the Islamic State’s 2014 invasion of the Nineveh Plain. It also examines the differing rates of return to the post-liberation Nineveh Plain as the primary and most objective indicator of a preferred security policy, and assesses the various factors behind differing rates of return. The goal is two-fold: first, it aims to convey a detailed understanding of the how these failed policies explain the current security challenges facing Assyrians, including their broader implications for Iraq. Second, it suggests policies for security provision in the Nineveh Plain into the future that are most likely to result in increasing further return of displaced Assyrians and ensure their long-term survivability in the region.

The Assyrian Policy Institute is grateful to its donors Dr. John Michael, Tony S. Kalogerakos, Atornia Zomaya, Aladin Khamis, Abe Yousif, Robert and Victoria Kaprelian, Manny Goriel, Dr. Edison Ishaya, and Dr. Dennis Gelyana. The contents of this report are the responsibility of the Assyrian Policy Institute and do not necessarily reflect the position of the above-named organizations and individuals.

This publication was made

possible through the support of the Assyrian National Council of Illinois.

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