Iraq remains gripped by protests, but the violent response of the government toward those asking for their rights has created an environment of uncertainty. Within the Nineveh Governorate, residents are prohibited from protesting, but the community still remains impacted by the demonstrations. Frustration at neighboring foreign countries' involvement in Iraq is a defining feature of the protests, which includes local anger at Turkish airstrikes in Sinjar and Iranian influence in Christian areas. The UN Investigative Team for Accountability of Da'esh (UNITAD) released its third report. Although it noted several improvements within the investigation, it also included substantial setbacks affecting the victims of ISIS's genocide.
Fears of potential retaliation, combined with a sense of relief that Iranian-backed PMF militia activities are reprioritized, underscore many of the concerns Nineveh residents have regarding why they have not joined the nation's protests. Nevertheless, some attempts at showing solidarity were made. Mosul University students organized a strike in support of the protests. Hundreds of students reportedly joined, and authorities responded by arresting three accused of organizing the event. One student attending the university told ICC, "We were able to protest at the college since mid-October, [but] the security forces attacked us in one way or another."
The momentum gathered by the protests brought the Central Government to a standstill, and Prime Minister Mahdi resigned on December 1. However, Mahdi's political decline did not limit his ability to confirm new leadership within the Nineveh Governorate. The provincial council dismissed the governor and replaced him with former Nineveh Operations Commander, Najm al-Jiburi. His appointment was confirmed by a presidential decree on November 28 despite a parliamentary vote in October which would dissolve provincial councils. Governor Jiburi's previous dedication in militarily defeating ISIS led to retaliation attacks against his family, leaving 16 of his close relatives dead.
The same day that Jiburi assumed governorship, alleged ISIS militants attempted a failed jailbreak in the Tasfirat Detention Facility near Mosul. A few weeks prior, 17 missiles were fired just south of Mosul. The PMF also announced that they had arrested several ISIS family members who entered Nineveh after escaping al-Hol camp in Syria. No other details were publically announced.
There has been a significant drop in reported counter-terrorism activity in Nineveh during November. It is not clear whether this is an indication of the protests' impact on local security efforts, a statement about the impact of the protests on public reporting more generally, or if ISIS has simply been less active. Only five alleged ISIS militants were reported arrested, a drop of 77% compared to October.
The death of ISIS leader al-Baghdadi in Syria was met with disbelief by many ISIS victims in Iraq. "We hoped the dream of the Baghdadi murdering [would] come true because he destroyed our community," said one.
Another added, "Sometimes, I feel the murdering of al-Baghdadi is a lie, we started getting used to these politics at play."
The consequences of the ISIS genocide, combined with Iraq's current political climate, create a difficult environment for the country's religious minorities. Turkish airstrikes further complicate this. Dawood, a Yazidi whose village was targeted by Turkey, shared with ICC, "The fact is that Iraq has become a good prey for some other countries, controlled by militias of some countries, and its own indigenous people are facing death."
He fears that "Turkey's number one goal is to clean the entire area of religious minority groups."
Other Yazidis have expressed anger at the Iraqi government's failure to confront Turkey's activities within their country. He continued, "Turkey is used to these invasions on Yazidi areas. The governments didn't even comment over the years, neither the KRG nor Central Government. We feel we are not part of this country."
Dawood echoes these concerns, especially in the context of the protests. He said, "I think the goal should be getting Yazidis out of Iraq. Iraq is a big mess on its own. Iraqi government is fully corrupted who kill their own citizens in streets for seeking their simple rights."
The protests may have redirected the attention of local PMF forces, but Shabak residents who enjoy support from the PMF are notably more active in Christian areas during the interim. Extortion by the Shabak are increasingly reported by Christians living in the Qeraqosh and Bartella areas. One resident said, "Shabak gangs and their power still control the main entrances, and are forcibly taking money from rich and poor people. They are keeping their existence by guns."
IOM issued a report documenting the impact of ISIS on agriculture in Nineveh, and noted that Christian areas have been the most affected by ethno-religious tensions. Although ISIS is militarily defeated, the report notes that Shabak encroachment on Christian land and intergovernmental conflict have kept farmers from reaching agricultural production levels that existed prior to the genocide. Agriculture is one of the primary economies in Nineveh.
A Coalition for Just Reparations (C4JR) was formed as an alliance of 25 Iraqi civil society organizations supporting reparation claims for ISIS victims. Iraqi Law No. 20 is the only legal avenue for victims of terrorism to seek reparations, but is flawed when reflecting the unique position of ISIS victims. Because the needs of victims are long-term and multi-faceted, many local groups are increasingly looking toward reparations as one solution. Reparations are not only monetary, as they include all forms of redress and rehabilitation.
UNITAD released its third report, detailing several significant updates regarding its investigation of ISIS crimes. Primarily Christian areas remain excluded from UNITAD's initial investigative priority areas, as the team has instead chosen to focus on Sinjar and Mosul within the Nineveh Governorate.
The priority in Sinjar is the excavation of mass graves, and UNITAD reports that 17 excavations are complete. However, the forensic analysis of Yazidi remains transferred to Baghdad remain substantially delayed because of the protests, according to Iraqi authorities. Nevertheless, UNITAD announced that more than 160 ISIS members have been identified as perpetrators of these massacres and cases are being built in Mosul's counter-terrorism court. UNITAD's investigative priorities in Mosul are of a different nature and mainly involve digitizing evidentiary case files held by local authorities.
Apart from conducting periodic interviews, UNITAD's report made no mention of how their investigative activities include exploring the impact of ISIS's genocide on Christian communities. UNITAD emphasized a growth of their investigative team staff, but no mention was made regarding whether their team includes qualified members of the religious minority communities impacted by ISIS's genocide.
Nevertheless, UNITAD's report did highlight several positive improvements regarding the investigation's intersection with other governments. For the first time, UNITAD provided testimonial support for an ongoing judicial court case in a third nation-state against an alleged ISIS member. UNITAD has connected 74 individuals to senior ISIS leadership, and identified 17 of them currently in Iraq custody. Iraq has allowed UNITAD to interview an ISIS detainee. More notably, the Iraqi government has introduced legislation which would allow for ISIS militants to be prosecuted for crimes against humanity, rather than simply terrorist activity.
"The absence of an explicit legal basis in Iraq for the prosecution of war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide also continues to limit the capacity of the Team to more effectively support domestic accountability efforts in Iraq. In that regard, the Team welcomes the recent efforts of the Government of Iraq to establish the necessary legislative framework," said UNITAD in its report.