Iran-backed Brigade 30 militia withdraws five kilometres from its Nineveh Plain bases after U.S. pressure

NINEVEH PLAIN, Iraq – As a result of U.S. pressure, the Shiite Shabak Popular Mobilization Unit (PMU) Brigade 30, a paramilitary force controlling most of the Chaldean-Syriac-Assyrian Nineveh Plain, has withdrawn their militia fighters up to five kilometres south from their current Nineveh Plain bases in Telsqopa, Batnaya, and Tel Kepe.

The withdrawal comes after the U.S. and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi put pressure on the PMU’s (or “Hasd al-Shaabi”) withdrawal in an attempt to bring back security and stability to Iraq and the Nineveh Plain. The increased U.S. pressure especially comes after rockets were fired on Erbil International Airport from the Nineveh Plain. The attack did not cause any material damage. The Kurdistan Regional Government accuses the PMU forces of the rocket attack.

According to former Member of Iraqi Parliament and outspoken leader of the al-Warka Democratic Bloc Jospeh Sliwa, the main intend of the rockets attacks was to provoke and create chaos. It also aims to counter efforts to bring stability and security to the majority Nineveh Plain where many Chaldeans-Syriacs-Assyrians have returned to their houses post-ISIS.

Joseph Sliwa also pointed in the direction of the Shiite PMU Brigade 30 and said that he expects a clear denunciation of the rocket attacks and action from the Chaldean-Syriac-Assyrian Nineveh Plain Protection Units (NPU) which is affiliated with Brigade 30.

The U.S. has warned the PMUs several times for attacks against foreign missions and bases. According to International Christian Concern it prompted the Iraqi government to replace PMU Waad Qaddo, the 30th Brigade founder for the Shiite Shabak in Nineveh. He was replaced by his assistant Zain al-Abedin Kheder. Last year, the US had sanctioned Qaddo for gross human rights violations in Nineveh.

One of the Nineveh Plain locals told International Christian Concern that the leadership change would not bring with it any structural transformation; “The Shabak militias, as represented by the 30th Brigade, took ISIS’s existence in the Nineveh Plains as an excuse for their armed people, but I think the real reason is to take over Christian areas step by step. The 30th Brigade has a direct connection with Iran.”

Iran-backed Shia militia were part of the broader mobilization against ISIS and contributed to the defeat of the terrorist organization. After the ISIS defeat, some Shia militias kept working highly independent from the central Iraqi state and army and kept working under Iranian patronage. These Iranian proxy militias became very powerful in the Nineveh Plain where they set up military bases, control checkpoints and roadblocks, assert authority over the Chaldean-Syriac-Assyrian towns and villages there, and bring about a demographic change of the Nineveh Plain.

The Chaldean-Syriac-Assyrian people have put forward a joint proposal to make the Nineveh Plain a Chaldean-Syriac-Assyrian self-representation region. Such a proposal is supported by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.