As of August 8, 2018, Basim Bello has officially been reinstated as the mayor of Tel Keppe District in the Nineveh Plain, one day after the Governor of Nineveh issued a decree ordering his reinstatement. The Iraqi Administrative Court of Justice ruled that the Nineveh Provincial Council’s August 2017 decision to remove Bello was unlawful and ordered he be reinstalled as mayor.
The August 7, 2018 order reads (translated from Arabic):
“...with final decree the following decisions have been taken:
The nullification of previous order no. 1517 issued on September 12, 2017 authorizing the dismissal of Mr. Basim [Bello], Director of Tel Kaif Administrative District.
Reinstating Mr. Basim [Bello] to his office as Director of Tel Kaif Administrative District to reassume his work and duties with the full powers and privileges associated with the position.
Relieving Mr. Adel Marogy Jajo from his post as Director of Tel Kaif Administrative District and the nullification of order no. 1518 issued on September 12, 2017.”
The API spoke with Bello this morning following his return to office. “I am grateful to all the people who stood by us and supported us, in whichever form their support may have come. It gave us the strength to continue working to secure our rights as prescribed by law. We will continue to seek justice for our people. What happened today was uplifting for all of us—this isn’t about me as an individual. It’s about all of our [Assyrian] people who today at least saw one of our rights returned to us," he said.
Bello was illegally removed from office on August 3, 2017 by the Nineveh Provincial Council, an administrative body led by Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) member Bashar al-Kiki. 31 of the council’s 41 members are affiliated with the KDP.
Residents feel Bello was targeted by the KDP due to his long-standing opposition to KDP aims and policies related to the Nineveh Plain, and that the instability post-ISIS created an opportunity for the KDP to further entrench its influence in the area. The decision to depose Bello was taken despite the fact that the residents of Tel Keppe have yet to return home. KDP member Adel Marogy Jajou was subsequently installed as mayor of Tel Keppe District.
Bello’s removal came just 19 days after the Council deposed the mayor of Alqosh Faiez Abed Jahwareh, who was also officially reinstated earlier this year but has yet to return to office and was recently detained and beaten by KDP political police known as the Asayish.
“...the Assyrian Christian mayors in Al Qosh and Tel Kayf were replaced, reportedly due to corruption, with KDP members who were also Christian. At the direction of the mayor, security forces in Al Qosh arrested and threatened a group who publicly protested this decision. Christian groups stated this was part of a “Kurdization” of their towns.”
In an August 2017 interview with Assyria TV, Bello stated that he felt both his removal and Jahwareh’s removal in Alqosh were part of the KDP’s plan to eliminate opposition to KRG annexation of the Nineveh Plain ahead of the September 2017 Kurdish referendum.
Bello’s criticism of the KDP is widely-documented. WikiLeaks cables that surfaced in recent years chronicled meetings between Bello and U.S. officials that reflected his position on the KRG’s growing presence in the Nineveh Plain; the KDP has a pattern of reacting harshly when it becomes aware of internal critics.
Bello was quoted in a Wikileaks cable from 2008: “According to Bello, the rift between the [Assyrian Democratic Movement] and the Kurdish parties began in 2003 as the KRG attempted to expand its political control further into Christian areas of the Ninewa plain. Bello said that the KRG is following a policy of encroachment into the Ninewa plain by attempting to establish “facts on the ground” by moving Kurds into Christian areas; stacking district and sub district councils with un-elected Kurdish members; and, in the case of Al Qosh, spending lavishly, particularly on the church and church-related construction.”
In the same cable, Bello expressed concerns over a potential monopoly of authority by the KDP in the Nineveh Plain district councils: “His own personal security aside—he believes he is under direct threat from the senior leadership in the KDP—Bello said his greatest concern is the prospect of irreversible modifications to councils that would give the KRG political control to go along with its effective occupation of the area…Bello also raised continuing Kurdish intimidation, including a personal threat made against him by KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani. Bello explained what he sees as an increasingly bellicose KRG policy as the result of the Kurds’ desire not to lose what was gained in terms of self-rule after the first Gulf War. As a result, there is an ongoing trend toward authoritarianism in the KRG…”
Although many Assyrians in Iraq view Bello’s reinstatement as an important step, many other problems persist, including the lasting presence of the Babylon Brigades, a nonlocal force affiliated with the Popular Mobilization Units with ties to Iran. The presence of this majority Shia Arab force in the Nineveh Plain has prevented the return of thousands of Tel Keppe residents.
The Nineveh Plain is a region in Iraq’s Nineveh Governorate located northeast of the city of Mosul. The area is considered the ancient Assyrian heartland. It borders the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, and is officially, though not entirely in practice, under the administration of the Central Government in Baghdad. It is the only region in Iraq where the largest demographic group is Christian. Before the Islamic State (ISIS), invaded Nineveh, Assyrians made up 40% of its population. Since 2003, the Nineveh Plain has been the area in which an effort to form an administrative entity has become concentrated.
Assyrians have long called for the establishment of a self-governed province in the Nineveh Plain under federal jurisdiction—administered and secured by local residents. In January 2014, the Iraqi Council of Ministers authorized the creation of such a province, but after the onslaught of ISIS, it has not materialized.