The Iran-backed Hashd al-Shabak militia continues to harass residents of Ninawa Plain for the purpose of consolidating its influence in the region, Iraqi journalist and political analyst Ziad al-Sinjari said Tuesday (July 14th).
The militia, led by 30th Brigade commander Waad Qado (Abu Jaffar al-Shabaki), seeks to control the strategic Ninawa Plain area -- which lies on the road leading to the Iraq-Syria border -- to serve Iran's agenda, he told Diyaruna.
It is doing that by effecting demographic change, the Ninawa native said.
Based in Ninawa province, Hashd al-Shabak is affiliated with the 30th Brigade of the paramilitary Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF).
On Sunday, the office of Masrour Barzani, prime minister of the Kurdish region, condemned the actions of "armed groups" in the Ninawa Plain region, saying they prevent displaced families who fled to the Kurdish region from returning to their original areas.
The armed groups have "set up secret prisons, taken over the lands of citizens, and set alight their homes and properties", he said.
Forced demographic change
The militia's elements are "pressuring Ninawa Plain's displaced residents to stay in camps by threatening to pursue and arrest them if they decide to return to their homes", said al-Sinjari.
Those who return are increasingly reporting extortion attempts by members of the armed militia, he said.
They are not allowed to rebuild their homes and properties until they make tribute payments to the militia, he said, even though they possess official building permits and deeds of ownership to their properties.
"This also applies to contractors and owners of commercial and investment projects; everyone must pay, otherwise the militia will harm them," al-Sinjari said.
Hashd al-Shabak militiamen still maintain control over the main trade route that runs from Erbil to western Ninawa areas such as Tal Afar and Sinjar, he said, and they extort money from truck drivers who seek to pass.
The militia is also lining its coffers by building housing complexes and applying policies that lead to demographic change, in an attempt to alter the ethnic diversity of Ninawa Plain, he added.
Serving Iran's agenda
As part of its efforts to reinforce Iran's influence in the area, the militia has opened a school bearing the name of former Iranian Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini, he said.
"The militia has set up dozens of illegal detention centres holding people under various pretexts," said al-Sinjari, noting that "no one dares come near [the centres] to inquire about their detained relatives, for fear of being arrested themselves".
Hashd al-Shabak takes its orders directly from Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), and does not comply with the directives of the Iraqi state, he said.
"It has defied the previous government's decision and refused to vacate its headquarters and hand them over to the Iraqi army," he added.
The militia continues to impose itself as a force above the law and does not respect Iraq's judiciary system or formal institutions, al-Sinjari said.
"This is a dangerous group and the government should take action to restrict its activities that are harmful to society," he said.
Earlier this year, Ninawa Plain residents held demonstrations demanding the militias be driven out of their area.
Ninawa Plain lies to the north and east of the city of Mosul, and includes several towns, most notably Bartella, Bashiqa, Tal Keyf, al-Abbasiya, Kawjali, Tal Saqf and al-Shallalat.