An American and Canadian Christian delegation was assaulted by Shiite Arab militiamen in Iraq while trying to visit the Christian areas in the Nineveh Plain, reported Basnews.
The delegation was escorted by members of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), including the director of Christian affairs for the KRG’s Ministry of Religious of Endowment and Religious Affairs. They were stopped by members of the Iranian-backed Hashd al-Shaabi militia at a checkpoint between Qaraqosh and Bartila, two Christian districts in Nineveh Plain.
The North Americans came under attack and were protected by Kurdish Peshmerga forces, three of whom were wounded in the ensuing exchange of gunfire.
Intervention from the Iraqi prime minister’s office eventually calmed the situation.
Last month, a Kurdish official from the ethnically mixed town of Tuz Khurmatur, located in Salahaddin Province, accused the Hashd al-Shaabi militias of kidnapping non-Shiite citizens of the town, holding them for ransom or simply killing them.
A Sunni-Arab tribal official joined the Kurds in demanding the Shiite militias be expelled from the area.
Abductions by Shiite militias in Iraq have been reported since ISIS moved in on Iraqi territory in the summer of 2014 and have intensified in recent weeks. Eighty non-Shiites have been reported abducted from Tuz Khurmatur alone since the beginning of 2017.
“Iraqi civilians are being hammered by ISIS and then by pro-government militias in areas they seize from ISIS,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director of Human Rights Watch, in 2015. “With the government responding to those they deem terrorists with arbitrary arrests and executions, residents have nowhere to turn for protection.”
BasNews reports that Tuz Khurmatu, a town populated by Kurds, Arabs and Turkmens, is one of the areas the KRG hopes will come under its control.
The area was once part of Kirkuk Province, heavily populated by the Kurds, but the Iraqi government made it part of Sunni-Arab majority Salahaddin Province in 1976.
Since 2003, the town has been in turmoil. When ISIS moved into Iraq in 2014, Kurdish Peshmerga forces successfully defended the town from a takeover by the terror group.
Shiite militias maintained a presence in the town for the last three years, resulting in two major battles which left many dead and wounded. Tensions were temporarily eased through talks.