Hundreds of protestors believed to be affiliated with Brigade 30 of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) set up blockades in parts of the Nineveh Plain today, blocking the main roads between Mosul and Erbil. Some of the protestors were Brigade 30 soldiers dressed in civilian clothing. The protest was held in response to the Iraqi Prime Minister’s July 2019 decision ordering PMU Brigade 30 and Brigade 50 (“Babylon Brigades”) to withdraw from Hamdaniya District and Tel Keppe District, respectively, in the Nineveh Plain.
In order to block roads, protestors formed human barricades and also used vehicles as well as fires and dirt barriers. They subsequently blocked the deployment of Iraqi Army soldiers in the area.
The protest was a major disruption for locals, particularly for those who work in neighboring provinces and were unable to travel. Many locals were also distressed by the protest, fearful that it may lead to armed conflict in the region.
Brigade 30 is presently stationed in Hamdaniya District, namely in the Assyrian town of Bartella. It is a Shabak-majority force affiliated with the Shabak Democratic Assembly; however, both Brigade 30 and Brigade 50 operate under the leadership and command of the Iran-backed Badr Organization with the backing of powerful nonlocal PMU forces. The force has gained a reputation for perpetrating abuses and harassing local Assyrian populations.
Brigade 30 and Brigade 50 were ordered to withdraw from their posts in the Nineveh Plain last month, but refused to comply with the order. Then on July 19, 2019, the United States Government announced sanctions against the leadership of both forces for human rights abuses.
Speaking to the Assyrian Policy Institute by phone, an Assyrian resident of Bakhdida (Qaraqosh) said, “The Iraqi Government must take bold actions against anyone who violates the law as a way to send a message to Assyrians and other minorities in the Nineveh Plain assuring them that the law is above all and it will be enforced.”
Some fear that the protest signals that enforcement of the Prime Minister’s order may result in armed conflict between the Iraqi Army and Iranian-backed PMU. “They [Brigade 30] are making it clear that they will not leave peacefully, and they are using the threat of violence to remain. Nobody wants another battle on these lands, and if it does come to that, it might mean that those who have returned [after ISIS] leave for good,” an Assyrian resident of Bartella told the API.
"All we want is peace," said an Assyrian woman from Bakhdida. "But how can we have peace when security [in the Nineveh Plain] is divided the way it is now? The only way to have peace is to end the political conflict over these areas."
The Iraqi Government must take immediate measures in an attempt to deescalate the conflict and to enforce the July 2019 order. Security responsibilities in Hamdaniya District and Tel Keppe District should be transferred to the local Nineveh Plain Protection Units with support from the Iraqi Army and federal police in the interim as the government works towards a sustainable and permanent security arrangement in the Nineveh Plain.