In the Nineveh Plains, near Mosul, Iraq, some 32,000 Christians live in areas controlled by Iran-backed militias. As tensions between the United States and Iran, Nineveh Christians hope for an end to the influence of Iran in their day-to-day lives.
Today, the largest Christian town, Baghdeda as it is called by Christians—it is also known as Qaraqosh—is surrounded by an Iran-funded militia. The second-largest town, Bartella, is controlled by such a militia. Both are around 20 minutes from Mosul, where Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had declared the doomed ISIS caliphate in 2014.
This picture is complicated by a demographic shift also taking place in these communities—once largely Syriac Christian and now Shabak Muslim. The Shabak are primarily a Shiite minority who, like Christians and Yazidis, were persecuted by ISIS.
Iraq’s Christians returned home to two unwelcome developments—their homes had been burned, looted or destroyed by ISIS and Iran-backed groups who helped defeat ISIS now controlled their towns.
(Pseudonyms have been used for most of the people interviewed for this article to protect them from reprisals.)
Like many Christians, he thinks the Shabak P.M.F. is corrupt. “A few days ago, there were some P.M.F. members at the gas station. The gas station was providing 40 liters to each person, but they provided more than that to their members or relatives.”Christian business owners, in particular, are targeted by the P.M.F., who demand bribes for allowing goods through at checkpoints or opening a shop. “At the checkpoint toward Erbil, which they control, they don’t let some cars go through without a bribe of $1,000,” said Amjad.
Some locals complain of restrictions on free movement. “I have a business partner from Mosul,” said George, 31, an electronics shop owner. “A few days ago, they stopped him at the checkpoint and refused to let him in.”
Christian businesses are also affected by a supposed boycott on the part of Shabak residents. Bashar, 35, a security guard, claimed, “The Shabak only purchase from the Shabak, and they tell others not to purchase from Christians.” Others make the same claim, including Amjad, who added that the Shabak Militia deliberately set fire to wheat and barley fields in the summer. Although these events, well-documented in the press, were widely attributed to ISIS, the lack of security makes it difficult to establish responsibility for such events.
Kamal, 60, a shop owner, said that the Shabak, including members of the P.M.F., have stolen wheat from his shop twice, a story corroborated by one other interviewee and confirmed by security camera footage. “There is no future for Christians in Iraq,” he said.
Although the same pattern of harassment and discrimination that began in 2017 continues in Bartella, locals disagree on the specific impact of rising U.S.-Iran tensions in December and January.