https://diyaruna.com/en_GB/articles/cnmi_di/features/2019/09/25/feature-01

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Iran fails to undermine culture of Ninawa Plains region

By Faris al-Omran

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Iraqi militiamen loyal to Iran march in a parade in a photograph circulated online by the militias on June 9th, 2018. [File]

Ever since the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) was expelled from Ninawa Plains at the end of 2016, Iran has been attempting to gain an ideological foothold in the region.

Examples of this include the Imam Khomeini school in the Bartella district as well as cultural centres and offices with a variety of activities aimed at appealing to youths and teenagers and influencing their beliefs in service of the Iranian agenda.

But Iran's efforts to influence the Iraqi people have failed miserably, according to local residents and observers, as the social cohesion and ethnic diversity of the Ninawa Plains region is proving to be impenetrable.

Iranian influence "is not well received by the local population here", said a resident from the Ninawa Plains region who requested anonymity.

"The families returning to the area after liberation are fully preoccupied with sorting out their affairs and getting back to work and getting on with their daily lives, and they have no interest in being influenced by Iranian activities," he told Diyaruna.

The Iranian regime has been repeatedly trying to spread its ideology, he said, which is based on the doctrine of Wilayat al-Faqih (Guardianship of the Jurist).

"But they are still unable to achieve any gains as people are clinging to their national and cultural identity and are working to strengthen co-existence and social integration," he added.

"The Iranian project to ideologically... dominate the region has failed -- just like ISIS tried and failed before that in promoting its terrorist ideology amongst the inhabitants of Ninawa [in an attempt to] mislead youths and create civil unrest," he said.

Deep roots of diversity

The Ninawa Plains region is made up of three administrative districts: al-Hamdaniyah, Sheikhan and Tal Kayf. The inhabitants of these districts are a cohesive mix of Christians, Turkmen, Shabak, Arabs and Yazidis.

This diversity "has deep cultural roots that the Iranians cannot uproot and replace with their beliefs", said political researcher Ghaith al-Tamimi.

"The ideology of ISIS has been strongly resisted by the people of Ninawa and terrorists with all their brutality and might were unable to force the inhabitants to accept this foreign extremism and ideological deviance," he told Diyaruna.

The Iranian regime has copied ISIS and is also failing and, as a result, is sorely disappointed as it is unable to find followers and supporters of its ideology in the Ninawa Plains and the province as a whole, he said.

"The dream of the Iranian leaders to turn Iraq into their backyard is slowly disappearing as public resentment grows towards the Iranian agenda that aims at weakening and ripping apart the social and cultural Iraqi fabric, particularly in the southern provinces," al-Tamimi said.

"Demonstrations against Iranian influence in the cities are the best proof that Iraqis are holding on to their identity and rejecting Iranian penetration and intervention in their affairs," he said.

It is also "an expression of Iraqi anger towards the chaos and sabotage instigated by the Iranians in the country", he said.

'Never yield to Iranian will'

Iranians are also brewing with anger, exposing the regime to the threat of collapse, al-Tamimi said.

"The Iranian regime has been losing its appeal even among Iranians themselves as they are currently burdened by economic hardship caused by the regime as a result of its support of terrorism in the region."

"Iran sees the Ninawa Plains as a strategic region that serves its plot to access Syria and the Mediterranean via Iraq," Subhi Nadhem Tawfeeq, a security expert, told Diyaruna.

This geopolitical importance has prompted the Iranian regime to work tirelessly to impose its hegemony in the area through ideological and cultural activities, and also by supporting armed militias that are loyal to Iran, he said.

The 30th Brigade militia led by Waad Qado (Abu Jaffar al-Shabaki) and the Babylon Movement militia (50th Brigade) led by Rayan al-Kildani are such examples.

These two militias are backed by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force (IRGC-QF). In July, the US initiated sanctions against the two militia leaders who are accused of directly or indirectly engaging in "serious human rights abuse".

The Ninawa Plains region is a microcosm of Iraq and an integral part of the nation, Tawfeeq said, adding, "It will never yield to Iranian will."

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