With the complete military defeat of IS in Iraq underway, the process of the return of internally displaced people (IDPs) faces enormous challenges. IS’s swift seizure of control of vast swathes of territories created new fissures and exacerbated old animosities and grievances among the variegated communities of the Nineveh Plain. Members of certain communities joined IS, while others showed sympathy to the group, causing rising social tensions among the communities. The war against IS also prompted certain communities to form their own armed forces, which can now be used to challenge rival communities and impose one-sided solutions by virtue of force. While no rigorous plan for the post-IS situation is available, and with Iraq facing economic and political hardships, the region’s dynamics are likely to continue to be conflictual, and communal relations may worsen further. Understanding how communities perceive reconciliation and conflict is a key element to ensure the return of IDP’s in the future.
This report focuses on the Shabak community, an abstruse ethno-religious group living on the Nineveh Plain just east of Mosul, and how they perceive reconciliation and conflict. Various international minority rights organisations recognise Shabaks as one of the five main minority groups most affected by the recent conflict beginning in June 2014. At present, the Shabak community is comprised of both Sunni and Shi’ites, yet the community’s religious identity has significantly evolved over time, moving from a distinctly heterodox to a more orthodox set of beliefs and rituals. This, combined with their geographic location in the disputed territories in close proximity to various other minorities, make their views on conflict and reconciliation particularly relevant for future coexistence in Nineveh.
One of the main findings of this report is that the Shabak community suffers from four main conflicts. Two relate to relations with other ethno-religious communities, namely Sunni Arabs and Christians, and the other two concern divisions within the community itself, that is, religious and ethnic identity. The rise of IS has impacted conflict dynamics in two distinct ways. On the one hand, it has led to a proliferation of armed groups, significantly increasing the possibility of a violent escalation. On the other hand, the complete rupture of the pre-2014 status quo has resulted in an intensification of identity discussions, which is linked to the settlement of the administrative status of disputed territories on the Nineveh Plain.
The community’s perception of justice and security is also explored in this report. Interviews reveal that the community is fearful of forced displacement and revenge acts after their areas are liberated, while some expressed doubts about the ability of the security forces and the judiciary system in place to deal with the post liberation environment.
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About MERI: The Middle East Research Institute is Iraq’s leading policy-research institute and think tank. It is an independent, entirely grant-funded not-for-profit organisation, based in Erbil, Kurdistan Region. Its mission is to contribute to the process of nation-building, state-building and democratisation via engagement, research, analysis and policy debates.
MERI’s main objectives include promoting and developing human rights, good governance, the rule of law and social and economic prosperity. MERI conduct high impact, high quality research (including purpose-based field work) and has published extensively in areas of: human rights, government reform, international politics, national security, ISIS, refugees, IDPs, minority rights (Christians, Yezidis, Turkmen, Shabaks, Sabi mandeans), Baghdad-Erbil relations, Hashd Al-Shabi, Peshmarga, violence against women, civil society. MERI engages policy- and decision-makers, the civil society and general public via publication, focused group discussions and conferences (MERI Forum).