Militias linked to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard are actively seeking to instigate demographic changes in strategic regions within Iraq. These militias have designated certain areas, including Jurf al-Sakhar, located south of Baghdad, and the agricultural projects area near the border city of al-Qaim in Anbar province, as “military zones.”
Observers have noted that this designation gives the militias a pretext to prevent the return of people who were displaced by the “Islamic State” (ISIS) to their homes and lands, while also justifying the influx of militia members into these areas.
This phenomenon is particularly prominent in the Nineveh Plains, which is home to the largest Christian community in Iraq. It is also occurring in cities west of Mosul and around Samarra, which holds the revered shrines of Imams Ali al-Hadi and Hassan al-Askari, significant figures in Shiite Islam.
Numerous families have been compelled to leave their homes and lands in the Balad district to escape threats from the militias. While in the past, people were afraid of ISIS, now they find themselves under the control of these militias, facing property seizures and displacement.
Political analyst Ziyad Al-Sanjari reveals that many villagers near Samarra have been displaced, and militia members from southern Iraq have settled in their place. The militias are also attempting to seize Sunni-owned mosques, such as the Samarra Grand Mosque and the Samarra School, as well as commercial properties in the city center.
Since 2014, over 70,000 civilians have been prevented from returning to their homes in Jurf al-Sakhar, with the militias transforming the town into a military zone. The demographic change is most evident in the Nineveh Governorate, which has experienced significant shifts in its population.
Former governor of Nineveh, Atheel al-Nujaifi, highlights that these militias are responsible for displacing the original inhabitants of the Nineveh Plain, many of whom are Christians who were forced to flee during the ISIS insurgency. One of the leading figures in these militias, Waad Qadu (aka Abu Jaafar al-Shabaki), is under US sanctions due to his involvement in serious human rights violations.
In addition to the demographic change, these militias are attempting to impose their political agendas in the areas they control. They have installed loyal individuals in administrative positions and have infiltrated various state institutions, including universities and academic establishments. The selection criteria for leadership positions are now based on factional relationships rather than competence and integrity, leading to the exclusion of independent figures from holding such roles.
Notably, armed factions, particularly Asaib Ahl al-Haq and the Badr Organization, have gained control over the University of Mosul, the second-largest public university in Iraq. These militias run projects and investments within the university and exploit its resources, further consolidating their influence.
Al-Nujaifi stresses that the militia’s agenda also involves imposing a religious character in Nineveh province, which was not prevalent in the past. Additionally, they are seeking to appropriate Sunni Endowment properties, shrines, and religious sites in the city of Mosul.