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Regional Conflict Threatens Minorities in Iraq's Nineveh Plain

Regional Conflict Threatens Minorities in Iraq's Nineveh Plain

Wednesday, 5 January, 2022 - 06:45
In this file photo taken on November 17, 2016, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters stand on a sand barrier created by Kurdish forces to demarcate their border, in the Nineveh plain, northeast of Mosul, Iraq. (AP)

The minorities living in Iraq's Nineveh Plain region northwest of Mosul city have found themselves caught in a regional and local conflict.

The locals have resorted to various excuses to justify why they remain in a territory where they feel helpless in confronting foreign ambitions that threaten their livelihoods.

Historically, the Nineveh Plain, which comprises the Tall Kayf, Hamdanid, and Bashiqa regions, is one of the most diverse areas in Iraq. It is home to a large population of Christians, Yazidis, Shabaks, and Kakais, alongside an Arab Muslim minority.

Minorities, especially the Yazidis, were widely oppressed by the terrorist ISIS group when it swept through Iraq in 2014. The majority of the Yazidi population in the Nineveh Plain have since fled to the Kurdistan Region or left Iraq altogether. Many returned after the military defeat of ISIS in 2017.

The people, however, are still suffering as a result of the fierce regional conflict over the region.

An informed source told Asharq Al-Awsat that ISIS' occupation of the majority of the Nineveh Plain in 2014 provided "rare opportunities" for neighboring Turkey and Iran to meddle in the region.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, he said the region is home to Turkey's Camp Zlikan military base, which comes under constant attacks by pro-Iran armed factions.

Turkey, meanwhile, constantly shells positions in the Sinjar province under the pretext of fighting the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

The source said Camp Zlikan's position on the Bashiqa Mountain provides Turkey with great opportunities to impose its military hegemony over the Nineveh Plain.

Turkish military activity has been detected as far as the border with Syria that has alarmed the Iranians, who want to control that area, he explained.

Turkey is openly deployed in the area, but Iran is indirectly present there through the armed Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), he added. There is no doubt that the factions are behind the attacks on the Turkish base.

The base had reportedly come under rocket attack on Tuesday.

The source said the rockets were fired from the village of Abu Jarbou, which is predominantly Shabak. Some PMF members are from the Shabak community.

The Nineveh Plain is not only caught between an Iranian-Turkish tussle, but local forces are also seeking to impose their hegemony.

The Kurds are seeking to seize control of the region, which neighbors the Kurdistan Region. The federal authorities want to keep their control over the area given the Arab population there that has ties with the greater Nineveh province and Baghdad.

The ethnic and religious minorities in the Nineveh Plain have grown frustrated with the Iraqi state's inability to protect them or make any move that could ease their fears and threats against them.

Former Yazidi MP Saib Khidir described the Nineveh Plain region as a the "step-brother" of Nineveh where authorities often ignore its problems.

He told Asharq Al-Awsat that the repeated attacks on the Turkish base alarm and terrify the people.

"The problem is that we do not support any form of foreign military deployment in our regions, but we have still found ourselves in very dangerous circumstances that we have no control over," he explained.

He confirmed that the Nineveh Plain and Sinjar have become regions of tensions where political messages are sent and local, regional and international scores are settled, either through the frequent attacks on the Turkish base or the Turkish attacks on Sinjar.

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