Groundbreaking shift in US policy: Support to local forces in Iraq’s Nineveh Plain

  • Written by:

Nuri Kino
Banner Icon HUMAN RIGHTS On December 3rd, a bill passed in the US congress that changes American policy in Iraq completely, writes Nuri Kino from #ADemandForAction (ADFA), a global initiative to support the protection of minorities in Iraq and Syria.
On A Demand For Action’s Facebook page one can read:

“We are pleased to announce that the National Defence Authorization Act has approved support for local security forces in the Nineveh Plain. We anticipate the passage of this bill shortly and A Demand for Action will continue our efforts to fully implement and realize this force to ensure the long term security for our suffering people.”

MANY PEOPLE around the world got excited over the news. Others remained suspicious and some even thought we made it up – that we were lying. But we also wrote this on our Facebook wall:

“A Demand for Action has been negotiating for the past three months to provide equipment and training to the Assyrians/Chaldans/Syriacs security forces of the Nineveh Plain. After the fall of Mosul, the Iraqi military and Kurdish Peshmerga immediately absconded in their responsibility to protect the minorities and villages of the Nineveh Plain. Our Executive Director, Steve Oshana met recently with President Obama’s staff where he was able to successfully convince them to support the policy to keep our people in their homeland.”

I can understand that people find this too grand to believe, I also understand people who have lost faith in politicians entirely. For more than a decade, Assyrians/Chaldeans/Syriacs, Yezidis, and other minorities have been persecuted with the aim of cleansing them from Iraq, and now since three years, also from Syria.

It’s important for us in the diaspora, no matter what ethnicity or religion, to listen to those in the homelands. A month ago one of our representatives, Linda Michael, wrote a blog post about a survey that an Iraqi NGO did in Iraqi Kurdistan, headed by Mr Mikhael Benjamin:

”The survey, conducted by the Ninveh Center for Research and Development, took place over almost 2 weeks and involved interviewing 4,011 Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac and Yazidi Internally Displaced Persons in the Dohuk and Erbil Governornates.”

And the result:

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”56% of those interviewed said they would prefer to go back to their homes but, not surprisingly, only under international protection as many felt betrayed and abandoned by what has happened. Without international protection, most made it clear that they would not return to their homes, favoring collective migration, in the hopes of preserving their religion, culture, language and traditions. Another 42% of IDPs indicated that they would prefer to migrate overseas, and also chose collective migration as opposed to individual or family migration for the sake of trying to preserve their culture and ethnic identity. It is important to note, that most of those who wanted to emigrate also noted that they believed International Protection would never eventuate as political and economic powers would come into play. As a result, they saw no future for their community in Iraq after being “constantly humiliated”. Less than 2% of IDPs interviewed indicated they would either prefer to return to their own homes/land without international protection or stay in the displacement areas, providing they had access to better infrastructure such as sanitation, healthcare and education.”

So what does the survey tell us? They want to emigrate, they want to go back to their homes … but only if they are protected. When we said that we – and many organizations with us – would work for them to get their own security forces, they thought we were idealistic dreamers. But we knew that all evidence would eventually convince US politicians to vote in our favor. At least we hoped so.

Because one thing is for sure, there will never be a mass emigration from Iraq in any legal form, that will never happen. There are 600,000 Internal Displaced People only from the Nineveh Plain in north Iraq, add another 400,000 from Mosul, Anbar and other places where Iraqis flee because of their religion or ethnicity. So 1 million. Europe, Australia, North America, will maybe, all in all, allow 100,000 to be resettled via UNCHR programs from Iraq. Add to that, that only a small number of nations take part in UNHCR:s resettlement.

The above factors illustrate why local security forces in the Nineveh Plain are important, but the next step, namely international troops and a safe haven, is even more important. But where will the money for local security forces for the Nineveh Plain go?

TO CLARIFY QUESTIONS of the funding mechanism for the NDAA (National Defence Authorization Act), section 1236 specifies the government of Iraq as the operational source of funding and directs the central government to distribute allocated resources for counter-ISIL (also called ISIS and IS) Operations. This is a marked shift in US policy where the entirety of the mechanism is being placed with the Iraqi government. This was an intentional move on behalf of the United States, and one that ADFA supported, to centralize all counter-ISIL and joint operational budgets to the central government to ensure a robust federalism in the Republic of Iraq. It is this same section that now specifies funding for local security forces in the Nineveh Plains.

The relevant material can be found starting on page 671 of the legislative text, which addresses authorization for local security against ISIL operations, and is further clarified on page 206 of the joint explanatory statement:

”The provision is also amended to add local security forces with a national security mission to the list of forces authorized to receive assistance under this section. We believe that, for purposes of this section, local security forces should include local forces that are committed to protecting highly vulnerable ethnic and religious minority communities in the Nineveh Plain and elsewhere from the ISIL threat.”