Iranian-backed Shiite militias stand accused of harassing and sexually assaulting Iraqi Christians who survived the recent genocide campaign by the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), the U.S. State Department (DOS) acknowledges in a report released Tuesday.
The State Department notes in its International Religious Freedom Report for 2017:
Christians reported harassment and abuse at numerous checkpoints operated by Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) units, impeding their movement in and around several Christian towns on the [Nineveh] Plain [in northern Iraq]. Christians and Yezidis in PMF-controlled towns reported harassment of Christian women by PMF members.
Christian religious leaders continued to publicly accuse the Iranian-backed Shabak Shia PMF militia 30th Brigade … of harassment and sexual assaults on Christian women … A Syriac Orthodox priest and the mayor of Hamdanyah attested to these repeated incidents. Arab Sunni leaders in Hamdanyah made similar allegations.
Baghdad has officially deemed the Iran-allied PMF, also known as the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), a component of the Iraqi military.
The PMF is primarily made up of Shiite fighters, but it also includes Sunnis and members of other religious groups.
Christians apparently consider the PMF a top threat.
The State Department report notes, “Christian and Yezidi internally displaced persons (IDPs) cited security issues as the primary concern, with the lack of central command and control of some PMF units being a primary concern in Sinjar and areas in the Ninewa Plain.”
Northern Iraq’s Nineveh Plain refers to the historical homeland of Iraq’s Christian community, considered one of the oldest in the world. The vast majority of the estimated 250,000 Christians who remain in Iraq reside in Nineveh.
In its report, DOS notes that Christians are also complaining of restrictions they are facing in the territory controlled by the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq.
State points out:
Some Yezidis, Christian leaders, and NGOs reported occurrences of harassment and abuses by Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Peshmerga and Asayish (internal security) forces, including Asayish-imposed requirements for security permits, which impeded the movement of Yezidis between Dohuk Province and the Sinjar area.
The relationship between the KRG and Christians appears to be complicated.
Although State acknowledges that the Kurds stand accused of stealing Christian lands and restricting their movements, the KRG provided refuge to followers of Christ during ISIS’s reign of terror in Iraq.
According to the religious freedom report, Christians have also accused Baghdad of forcing them to convert their children to Islam to avoid losing Iraqi government benefits.
Community leaders continued to state forced conversion was the de facto outcome of the national identity card law mandating children with only one Muslim parent, even children born as a result of rape, be listed as Muslim. Christian converts reported being forced to choose to register their child as a Muslim or to have the child remain undocumented, affecting their eligibility for government benefits.
They [Christians] also said the central government in Baghdad was facilitating demographic change by providing land and housing for Shia to move into traditionally Christian areas.
Various human rights groups have accused the Iranian-backed PMF troops of committing abuses and atrocities against Iraq’s Sunni community and other religious minorities.
Nevertheless, the U.S. military has acknowledged that the contribution of the PMF to the fight against ISIS was pivotal in dealing the group a devastating blow.
U.S. and Iraqi officials have declared victory over the ISIS caliphate in Iraq, but they concede that the jihadist group remains a threat.
ISIS jihadists reportedly continue to terrorize religious minorities.
Although the government declared victory over ISIS on December 9, ISIS continued to target non-Muslims and Muslims after that date, including through threats, restrictions, looting, and attacks on and seizures of religious sites.
In Mosul, ISIS fighters reportedly continued to threaten with death local residents who did not convert to Islam. They also continued to punish those who failed to adhere to the group’s strict interpretation of sharia. ISIS continued to impose severe restrictions on women’s movement and dress, and enforcement patrols by ISIS forces were reportedly routine.
Former Congressman Frank Wolf, the co-founder of the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, a religious freedom organization focused on helping Christians and other ethnoreligious minorities in Iraq, predicted that Iran-allied PMU fighters would persecute Christians.