Displaced residents of Ninawa Plains have been complaining that Iran-backed militias operating under the auspices of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) have been impeding their return to their homes.
Forced to flee the area north-east of Mosul during the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) incursion, many are now finding they are being prevented from returning by the very militias that purport to have "liberated" them.
Area residents say members of minority groups have faced harassment from these militias, who also have been transgressing on their property and land.
To draw attention to their situation, hundreds of Ninawa Plains residents, including Christians, Yazidis and Kurds, organised a protest on January 22nd in front of the UN mission headquarters.
They called on the UN to put pressure on the Iraqi government to remove the PMF militias from Ninawa Plains.
They also handed the UN mission a letter complaining of provocative and unlawful practices by these militias, protestor Imad Zahran told Diyaruna.
He noted that militiamen in the area, many of whom are teenagers, have been setting up unauthorised security checkpoints and imposing fees on vehicles and pedestrians who pass through them.
"No one is able to oppose them or hold them to account for their actions," he said.
This sets a dangerous precedent, he said, asking how residents will be able to protect their lives and their assets from an authority that sees itself as above the state and Iraqi law.
About 3,000 families displaced from Ninawa Plains have refrained from returning to their homes, he noted -- not out of fear of ISIS, but to avoid having to deal with the PMF militias.
Unstable security, demographic change
As a result of the militias' presence, the security situation in Ninawa Plains has become unstable, said Sirwan Khoshnaw, who took part in the recent protests against the militias.
Militiamen have neglected to provide security, he told Diyaruna, and have focused instead on pursuing partisan interests and the personal interests of their leaders.
"The security situation in Ninawa Plains was better when the region was under the control of Peshmerga forces," he said, noting that in his opinion they demonstrated greater respect for the rights of the area's minority groups.
The number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) returning to their homes in Ninawa Plains, particularly members of the Christian minority, is very low, said Evan Faeq, who serves as an adviser to the Ninawa governor.
Nearly half of the inhabitants of Bartella in Ninawa Plains have not returned to their homes, she told Diyaruna, while only 1% of Tal Kayf's original inhabitants have returned -- the lowest percentage to date.
She warned that this status quo portends a demographic change that could end the presence of many religious and ethnic minorities in these areas.
In August, then-Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi ordered the PMF to withdraw from all checkpoints under its control in the Ninawa Plains area, due to the growing number of complaints against them.
But elements of the PMF's 30th Brigade -- led by Waad Qado, who is on a US sanctions list -- refused to comply, and remained in their positions against the government's will.