IRAQ

Iraq is considered the heart of the Assyrian homeland. Prior to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the number of Assyrians in Iraq was estimated to be 1.5 million. Today, fewer than 300,000 remain, primarily concentrated in the Nineveh Plain and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, though a dwindling number remain in Baghdad.

Establishment of a Nineveh Plain Province for minoritized communities.

The Nineveh Plain is a region in Iraq’s Nineveh Governorate located northeast of the city of Mosul. It abuts the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, and is officially (though not entirely in practice) under the administration of the Central Government in Baghdad. Prior to the advent of IS, the villages in the Nineveh Plain were inhabited by several ethnic and religious minority groups, the largest among them being the Assyrians. The Nineveh Plain is the only region in Iraq where the largest demographic group is Christian. Before IS invaded Nineveh, Assyrians made up 40% of the population within the plains. The area is considered the ancient Assyrian heartland.

On January 21, 2014, in a landmark moment for Assyrians and other minoritized groups in the Nineveh Plain, the Iraqi Council of Ministers voted for the creation of three new governorates in Iraq, among them a Nineveh Plain Governorate. This new governorate would ostensibly serve as a safe haven for minorities, including Assyrians, while remaining part of Iraq and under the authority of the Central Government. The Central Government’s decision renewed hopes for a sustainable future for Assyrians and other minorities in Iraq, but the mood changed drastically just months later as the towns of the Nineveh Plain were emptied, when IS invaded. 

OUR RECOMMENDATIONS: Recognize the Nineveh Governorate's 2003 constitutional boundaries, and support the restoration of federal authority in the Nineveh Plain. Assist the Central Government in Baghdad in implementing Resolution No. 16 issued by the Iraqi Council of Ministers in its meeting on January 21, 2014, which gave preliminary approval for the creation of the Nineveh Plain Governorate, and support the authorization of legislative and administrative procedures required to implement the resolution. 

Support the Assyrian people in developing sustainable, functional, and democratic forms of local administration and security, within the framework of the united, federal, Iraqi state, in order to preserve the continuity of the Assyrian culture within the Assyrian homeland. 

Restoration of the Nineveh Plain after IS.

Except for Alqosh and a few other villages in its northernmost reaches, the Nineveh Plain is in ruins. Many homes, buildings, schools, churches, and clinics were looted and destroyed by IS during the terrorist organization's nearly 3-year occupation. Villages in the Nineveh Plain continue to lack access to electricity and potable water. The lasting devastation has driven many Assyrians from the Nineveh Plain to seek refugee status in countries like Jordan and Lebanon.

The Government of Iraq estimates that $88 billion dollars is the sum of money needed to rebuild the country after IS. Not only are Assyrians and Yazidis impeded materially from the rebuilding process, but by political problems as more powerful groups seek to take advantage of the chaos. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has attempted to control restoration efforts in order to create dependency of communities in the Nineveh Plain on the KRG and produce political gain. Sectarian organizations have also monopolized aid distribution, but aid delivered through these organizations in the Nineveh Plain has proven to be distributed unevenly.

OUR RECOMMENDATIONS: Assist the Iraqi Government in rebuilding devastated areas inhabited by minority communities and promoting economic development in the Nineveh Plain. Channel aid allocated for Assyrians and other minorities in the Nineveh Plain directly to nonsectarian Assyrian-led NGOs independent of the KRG, politically or otherwise. Invite the UN Mission in Iraq to oversee rehabilitation efforts, reducing exploitation and preventing the imposition of single-party hegemonic policies across the Nineveh Plain.

Development of Assyrian-led security.

The various ethnic communities that comprise the Nineveh Plain have been historically marginalized and abused by larger, more dominant groups, and have for years sought to establish a local security force to protect themselves. Following its liberation from IS in the early months of 2017, a number of forces are involved in the security arrangement of the Nineveh Plain, including the Nineveh Plain Protection Units (NPU) supported by Iraqi Police and the Kurdish Peshmerga and Asaysih, as well as PMU-affiliated forces like the Shia-majority Babylon Brigades and the Shabak Brigade 30.

The various security forces that are now contesting for control of the area have competing interests: Kurdish Peshmerga and their allied forces seek its annexation by the KRG, while the Baghdad-backed NPU advances the creation of a Nineveh Plain Governorate linked directly to the Central Government giving Assyrians and other peoples of the Nineveh Plain parity with other sub-national federal units in Iraq’s burgeoning federal system. Insofar as the individuals in the relevant units of the NPU are drawn from the populations of the towns in question and operate independently of the Peshmerga, they represent a crucial element in the repopulation of these towns and the building of trust in security and political frameworks.

Though it’s been nearly a year since the Nineveh Plain’s liberation, resident have yet to feel at ease with the security situation. The lack of confidence in the current security structure has deterred many Assyrians from returning home. Assyrians from the northern Nineveh Plain remark that they would feel safer with Assyrian-administered security, and are unable to trust KRG-affiliated forces after they were abandoned by the Peshmerga when IS approached in 2014, whereas Assyrians in the from the southern Nineveh Plain express concerns about the growing presence of Shia militias.

OUR RECOMMENDATIONS: Enable minoritized communities in the Nineveh Plain to defend themselves and protect their lands by supporting the integration of all private security forces formed by minorities under a single force derived from the local population administered by Iraqi federal forces, such as the Nineveh Plain Protection Units (NPU). Formally integrate the NPU into the Iraqi federal forces, and transition PMU-affiliated forces out of the Nineveh Plain. 

Prevention of land theft and forced demographic change.

The chronic and systematic expropriation of Assyrian land in the Kurdistan Region has been a long-term problem that continues unabated in the present. There are over 130 illegal village and farmland seizures across the KRI perpetrated by ethnic Kurds and facilitated through active involvement or passive endorsement of KRG authorities. Official KRG documents ordering an end to Kurdish encroachments of Assyrian land date back to 1992.

Politics in the KRI are often characterized by corruption, nepotism, tribal gangsterism, and an absence of legitimate political institutions and rule of law. It is these conditions that facilitate the theft of Assyrian land. The intention and scale of the process constitutes a targeted and systematic attempt to ethnically cleanse the Assyrian population from their ancestral homelands, by appropriating property to which they are legally entitled and for which they possess deeds. Assyrians seeking to overturn the occupation of their land have exhausted all available legal and political means of seeking recourse against illegal confiscations, including frequent appeals to KRG courts and other bodies. From 1991 to 2018, not a single order (the majority of which have decreed that the original Assyrian inhabitants are the rightful owners of the land being discussed in a given case), whether produced by agricultural committees, courts, by political decree, or through other administrative bodies—has been honored and enforced by KRG authorities.

OUR RECOMMENDATIONS: Make U.S. support for the Kurdistan Regional Government conditional, including contingencies on the prevention of land theft and return of expropriated Assyrian land to its rightful owners, wherever and as much as possible. Recognize that the expropriation of Assyrian land within the KRI is systematic and constitutes ethnic cleansing. Emphasize to the KRG the need to remedy injustices caused by its various practices in altering the demographics of certain regions in and near the KRI.

Access to the full-spectrum of state-provided services.

Many Assyrians living in villages across the Kurdistan Region (such as Nahla, villages near Zakho, or villages between Sarsing and Amedi) have frequently internalized second-class status and hold minimal expectations as to what the state should provide. 

 

Most Assyrian villages inside the KRI lack proper infrastructure including but not limited to electricity, hospitals, adequate schools, acceptable roads, water supply, waste management, parks, bridges, and other public services. Roads leading to and within Assyrian villages are often in very poor condition, creating hazardous conditions for drivers. Assyrians in most villages do not have access to emergency services such as fire and law enforcement.

Although all residents of the KRI experience frequent and random power outages varying in length, Assyrians living in rural villages sometimes have almost no access to electricity which causes many problems including: inability cook meals as appliances cannot be used; inability to shower in winter as the water is too cold; difficulty preserving perishable foods; freezing conditions in the winter with heat provided only by portable kerosene stoves; major inconveniences for high school and college students who require internet access for their studies. Many Assyrians living under KRG rule also lack access to potable water. 

OUR RECOMMENDATIONS: Urge the Iranian Government to distribute resources evenly, and allocate sufficient funding to minority-populated regions to reduce poverty and improve the quality of life.

Protection of freedom of speech.

The two dominant parties of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), the KDP and PUK, each have their own separate, party-affiliated secret police and intelligence services. While the purpose of these asaish and parastin is ostensibly to provide security and safety to the citizens of the Kurdistan Region, they perform the additional function of enforcing compliance with party policies and silencing oppositional voices.

 

Assyrians who speak out publicly against discrimination, injustice, prejudice, political coercion, and annexation, or who are critical of other KRG policies and practices, even on social media, are frequently threatened with violence via phone calls and messages from the asaish. In such situations, the asaish sometimes approach people openly, not disguising their affiliation with the secret police. In other cases, people receive anonymous threats via mysterious calls. The anonymous threats are a common response to any form of perceived opposition to KDP agendas; they are not seen as random incidents carried out by civilians, but are usually understood to originate with the organized intelligence apparatus of the KDP. In many cases, people are followed and attacked or arbitrarily detained.

OUR RECOMMENDATIONS: Condemn the oppressive measures employed by the asaish to silence and terrorize ordinary people. Hold the KRG accountable for its unacceptable treatment of minorities, which violate many principles of human rights enshrined by international law.

Reversing the damaging effects of the KDP patronage system.

To strengthen their prospects of incorporating the Nineveh Plain into the Kurdistan Region, Kurdish authorities have for more than a decade practiced a strategy of offering incentives to minority communities in exchange for their support for the KRG’s claims to the Nineveh Plain, while imposing restrictions on those who do not. The KDP buys the allegiances of many Assyrian tribal and political leaders through a patronage system that fosters political divisions within the community; this also has the effect of obfuscating and muddling the voices of the Assyrian majority, making advocates, NGOs, and Western government officials less able to understand the local dynamics that harm the minority. 

 

This process has the destructive effect of eroding the legitimacy of both spiritual and political leadership within minority communities, as clergy and political leaders are alike targeted with this “political conversion” effort, amid the deep frustration of the people who then feel abandoned by their representation. The pattern is that without this financial bribery, it is difficult for the KDP to make inroads with communities whose interests are not served by KDP objectives. Usually, only the loyalty of the figure receiving the salary—and that of his inner circle of friends and relatives—is bought by the party; these figures are then generally rejected by a majority of their community, but because the KDP is able to “convert” most of the visible leadership figures, it still succeeds in creating the illusion that a sizable portion of the minority population stands with the party.

In addition to the co-optation of community figures is the creation and funding of alternative Assyrian political parties, civil society groups, and security forces that favor Kurdish annexation of the Nineveh Plain.

OUR RECOMMENDATIONS: Condemn the KRG’s strategies of political manipulation that target the Assyrian community, rejecting the tactics employed through the patronage system.

Ending voter fraud and intimidation targeting Assyrians. 

Assyrians have long complained about voter fraud and systemic irregularities in minority elections administered by the KRG that altered the outcome of the vote. 

Up to 100,000 eligible Assyrian voters from the Nineveh Plain were denied their right to vote in the 2005 provincial elections after the KDP blocked the entry of ballot boxes to six major Assyrian towns and villages in the region. Ahead of the 2009 elections, Assyrians were pressured to vote for a KDP-aligned Assyrian candidate slate. In some cases, the KDP offered incentives in order to secure votes. There were promises of money and employment. In other cases, the KDP relied on threats. University students were told their school bus services would end. Ration cards were confiscated. Locals were told they would lose their jobs if they did not vote as directed.

The KDP has also mobilized its Kurdish members to vote for KDP-aligned slates in minority elections. 2013 election results showed that thousands of votes for KDP-backed Assyrian slates came from towns with no Assyrian population.

This underscores that in order to prevent fraud, there must be a procedure implemented to ensure that only Assyrians vote for seats reserved for Assyrian minorities.

OUR RECOMMENDATIONS: Pressure the KDP to end electoral fraud in the KRI and the Nineveh Plain and invite neutral foreign observers to guarantee legitimate elections (ending the practice of party appointments and foreign beneficiaries), to monitor the election process, and to count votes in these areas. Implement a procedure that ensures only Assyrians and other Christian minorities are able to vote for quota seats reserved for Christians.

Dissolution of the Nineveh Provincial Council.

The KDP has worked to install its own loyalists in the Nineveh Governorate for years, and it often succeeded in doing so in local districts within Nineveh (Sinjar being a prime example). However, the Nineveh Governorate became increasingly vulnerable to this manipulation following the events of 2014, when governance in Mosul collapsed and government offices serving the then-displaced residents of Nineveh had to be reopened in Dohuk. The affiliation of the Nineveh Governorate with the Central Government in Baghdad is therefore becoming progressively more illusory, as the KDP is able to implement policy through Nineveh while pretending to remain separate from it.

 

The fact that the KDP has infiltrated one of Baghdad’s governorates and is now using that platform to “legally” migrate disputed territories out of that same governorate’s jurisdiction and into the sphere of KRG administrative and security structures amounts to the KRG using Iraq’s own institutions of governance in non-Kurdish areas to prepare parts of Iraqi territory—outside of the KRI—for eventual secession from Iraq.

Between July and August 2017, two Assyrian mayors of townships in the Nineveh Plain were expelled by the Nineveh Provincial Council: Faiez Abed Jahwareh of Alqosh and Basim Bello of Tel Keppe. Both men were subsequently replaced by a member of the KDP and a KDP supporter, respectively. This was accomplished through the KDP takeover of the Nineveh Provincial Council, which is led by Bashar al-Kiki, a member of the KDP. Thirty-one of the council’s forty-one members currently belong to the KDP.

Both Jahwareh and Bello appealed the Nineveh Provincial Council's decision, and the Iraqi federal court ruled in their favor and ordered their reinstatement, however, the decision cannot be implemented given the KDP's control over parts of the Nineveh Plain both politically and militarily.

The KDP-dominated Nineveh Provincial Council has also employed similar tactics against the Yazidi people in the Nineveh Governorate, appointing a KDP member as mayor of Sinjar, and refusing to coordinate with Yazidi mayors unaligned with the KDP. The council has also taken measures to block access to aid and humanitarian relief efforts for Yazidi communities, closing roads and rejecting basic permits, effectively preventing repatriation and redevelopment and creating further hardship for victims of genocide. 

OUR RECOMMENDATIONS: Support the reinstatement of the rightful mayors of Alqosh and Tel Keppe in the Nineveh Plain. Support the dissolution of the Nineveh Provincial Council, as it is no longer an Iraqi entity but has become a partisan façade serving a secessionist agenda and creating hardship for minoritized groups.

Equal access to quality education for Assyrians.

Following the First Gulf War, Assyrians successfully advocated for the establishment of the Assyrian school system in northern Iraq. The Assyrian Aid Society (AAS), an NGO headquartered in Dohuk, played an integral role in the effort.

 

Dozens of schools (from primary school to high school) across the region are designated for Assyrian students, where students have the opportunity to study in their own language. Approximately 10,000 Assyrian children are currently enrolled in the Assyrian school system. School sizes vary. These schools are seriously underfunded, and rely on the support of the AAS to address their needs. As a result, Assyrian students must endure inadequate facilities and equipment, and struggle to overcome educational barriers.

Assyrian schools in the Kurdistan Region are in disrepair. Many schools are falling apart, and despite their state, receive little to no assistance from the KRG. The schools are in need of new desks, chairs, and other furniture as many are old and damaged. Renovations are also needed for the windows, doors, floors, and bathrooms in a majority of the schools, primarily for safety but also to improve recruitment, retention, commitment, and effort. Teachers have noted that school facilities deeply affect the health, behavior, engagement, learning, and growth of their students.

School-related transportation expenses are not covered by the KRG. Transportation to schools is facilitated by Assyrian Aid Society (AAS). AAS used to cover transportation expenses for all students, but can no longer afford it given current demands for aid. Since October 2016, Assyrian teachers have gone completely unpaid by the KRG. They continue to work due to their commitment to their students and the school.

Required textbooks are provided to Assyrian schools in northern Iraq by the KRG, which distort Assyrian history in Iraq and also include sections on Kurdish warlord Simko Shikak describing him as a hero. Shikak led multiple massacres of Assyrians during the 1915 Assyrian Genocide (coinciding with the Armenian Genocide) resulting in the slaughter of thousands. He is notorious for the assassination of Assyrian Patriarch Mar Benyamin Shimun XXI in 1918 under false pretenses, under a flag of truce.

OUR RECOMMENDATIONS: Pressure the KRG to support the sustainability of Assyrian schools by providing adequate funding and paying teacher salaries. Address unfair legislation and educational curricula related to Assyrians that demean their importance and reduce their role as an indigenous component of Iraq. Correct the educational curriculum required at Assyrian schools and take historical evidence into consideration.

Protection of religious freedom. 

Discrimination towards Christian Assyrians was codified in the Iraqi Constitution, which recognizes Islam as the official religion, mandates that Islam be considered a source of legislation, and states that no law may be enacted that contradicts the established provisions of Islam. 

Though the constitution also provides for religious freedom and the practice of religious rights, there are sustained reports of societal abuses of discrimination based on religious affiliation. Sectarian violence in some parts of the country has had a negative impact on the ability of all non-Muslims to practice their faith, although to a lesser extent in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI). Violence targeting Christians across Iraq over the years has resulted in significant internal displacement, external displacement as refugees, and restrictions on religious freedom. 

Sectarian hiring practices and corruption has also had a detrimental economic effect on Assyrians and other non-Muslim communities, such as the Yazidis, that do not control access to public sector employment. This has also contributed to the departure of significant numbers of Assyrians from Iraq. 

OUR RECOMMENDATIONS: Enable minority communities to defend themselves and protect their lands. Press for greater inclusion of religious minorities in the political process in both Iraq and the KRG, as well as nonsectarian hiring practices.

Recognition of the 1933 Simele Massacre. 

The Simele Massacre was a massacre committed by the armed forces of the Kingdom of Iraq led by Bakr Sidqi during a campaign systematically targeting the Assyrians of northern Iraq in August 1933. The term is used to describe the massacre in Simele, but also the killing spree that took place among 63 Assyrian villages in the Dohuk and Mosul districts that led to the deaths of up to 6,000 Assyrian civilians. The campaign also resulted in significant internal displacement and external displacement as refugees. Kurdish and Arab inhabitants of Simele joined looters in raiding the homes of their Assyrian neighbors. 

Raphael Lemkin, who coined the term 'genocide', was directly influenced by the story of the Simele Massacre and Armenian, Greek, Assyrian Genocide. 

A mass gravesite at the site of the Simele Massacre is currently unmarked and unprotected, with bones entirely exposed. As a result, the area is often littered with waste. Despite overwhelming evidence provided by historians, the Simele Massacre has yet to be recognized by the Iraqi Government. Recognition will lead to improved relationships between Iraq and Assyrians.

OUR RECOMMENDATIONS: Pressure the Iraqi Government to recognize the Simele Massacre, offer restitution to surviving victims and their families, and restore their citizenship. Support the Assyrian people in the creation of a proper memorial site.

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