Investigative report by North Shmeden & Omran Aldhahe
Supervised by Kammy Almelhem
In Owaynat village affiliated to Al-Ayaadheya region, west of Ninewa Governorate, close to a dust barrier surrounding a flat piece of land not exceeding 2,000 square meters, there is a camp where several clannish mobilization factions are supposed to be training. However, the whole place seemed to be completely empty without any sign whatsoever of fighters or equipment. That very same scene is repeated in other locations supposed to be camps or locations housing mobilization combatants, according to the statements repeatedly made by almost all mobilization groups’ leaders.
Amongst them is Abdel Kereem Al-Shattry, deputy leader of the ‘Popular Mobilization’ (in Arabic Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi), who said that many mobilizations are spreading in the area situated 80 km west of Mosul including the mobilization unit led by ‘Abdullah Asaad Basha (Regiment No 60 with a registered manpower of 77 fighters) and the mobilization group headed by ‘Fanar Ahmed Safouk’ (Regiment No 63 with a registered group consisting of 291 fighters). But the two reporters preparing this investigation did not actually find any sign of military presence in that place. And the piece of land which is supposed to be training and preparation ground for the fighters in the camps was covered with sylvan and do not reveal any signs of military heavy footsteps on the ground.
A Sheikh of clan from a neighboring village named ‘Shehab Al-Isa, commenting on the issue saying, “The mobilization groups evaporate once they find a place to their names and numbers on the lists of salaries.”. He added saying, “Salaries reach the mobilizations’ leaders and only a few number of those close to them.” He clarified that many of the village’s youth and the neighboring villages, most of which are agricultural areas, are suffering from unemployment and are ready to get involved in such mobilization groups on condition of securing their rights.
Securing rights seems to be an issue of complaint. A youth named ‘Sleem Matter Enad’, from Al-Owynatt, for example, was involved with the mobilization faction affiliated to ‘Shamar tribe’ and was trained in Al-owynatt a year and a half before, but not receiving his salary made him reluctant to continue with them. “Many did the same”, he said while looking at the camp site saying, “You cannot guarantee anything from them.”
Practically speaking, there is actually no specific location or equipped training grounds including any mobilization faction like the other regular forces stationed throughout this region. And while touring among the villages, whether west or south of Mosul, one can hear a single common phrase, “the mobilization so and so holds land in the region so and so.” But when reaching the referred locations, one can find nothing but fluttering flags on some sites or close to checkpoints symbolizing a specific mobilization group with some persons carrying light arms at best.
About a year before, all their talk seemed to be focused on salaries, some complained about collecting meager payments and demanded treating them on equal footing with army personnel, since they are doing the very same duties.
Someone named ‘Abed Ghalab took us for a tour in his car to see how things are going in these regions. He told us that he had not received his salary for four running months. “That’s why I sacked myself.” he said mockingly. He also referred that after the anti-ISIL war had come to an end, the government seemed reluctant to support the clannish mobilization groups. “And it might soon be dissolved as well.” he exclaimed.
‘Abed’ is now working as a taxi driver between Mosul and Baghdad on a daily wage. He was among the fighters of “Shamar Regiment” located in ‘Albag Hills’, south of Mosul. He participated in assisting and supporting the security forces together with his comrades during Mosul liberation operations and confirms that he is still quite ready to carry arms again if only a fixed monthly pay can be secured for him.
Dozens of field tours confirm beyond any doubt that the reality on the ground concerning the number elements of such mobilization factions is utterly inconsistent with what registered on paper. The charge of being spatial lodged against “Atheel Al-Negeffy Mobilization Entity’ applies in fact to all the other clannish mobilization brigades without any exception. This is due to the fact that both the ‘Popular Mobilization Authority’ and Iraqi government declared that the substratum of the clannish mobilizations in Ninewa includes (15,000) fighters, something that is incompatible with the actual existence of fighters on the ground.
There is, for instance, the mobilization headed by ‘Ali Jassem Al-Matbouty’ who claims that he ‘holds land’ in a district situated west of Mosul. This is definitely untrue and there was no sign of him whether east or west of Mosul. The very same delusion applies to the mobilization group led by ‘Nawar Nayef Hamaad’, since the number of manpower registered on their lists amounts to (113) combatants, although it doesn’t have any existence there, not even a single fighter.
The same illusion applies to the mobilization entity led by ‘Radhwan Nafeh Mohamed’ whose official number is (275) combatants, but what exists on the ground does not exceed (100). The very same applies to another mobilization group affiliated to ‘Hashem Al-Hamdanny’ the former head of the Governorate Council. The number recorded on their lists is as high as (300) elements, whereas the number of their actual fighters is merely (30).
Meanwhile, there are two other entirely delusive mobilization groups headed by two members in Iraq’s parliament representing the city of Mosul, according to the confirmations given by the inhabitants of the regions the two MPs claim the existence of the two mobilizations there. Not only this, but there is another mobilization battalion, named “Regiment 14” with a manpower of (50) fighters, which was supposed to hold land in the Arab district region (Al- Haai Al-Arabi), north of Mosul.
After investigation, we found out that his leader (with initials m. F.) is requested by law and a judicial warrant of arrest was issued to bring him to justice after being charged with stealing (6) kilograms of gold from some jewellery shops in the city and his faction doesn’t originally have any sign or existence on the ground.
And in the process of checking the numbers of fighters registered on the lists of (42) mobilization regiments and matching such numbers with more than one local, security, and clannish source in their different locations and regions, we found out that less than (5000) elements from the Sunni mobilizations are actually existing in Ninewa Governorate, whereas the remaining (6370) fighters are not more than delusive jobs.
And with excluding the monies spent on armament, transport, and accommodation in the camps, the amounts of the funds received for the so-called ‘spatial’ volunteers in a single month reach as high as $ 3,350,000 which goes to the pockets of the mobilizations’ leaders, on the basis of allocating (650,000) Iraqi Dinars for each element plus the food cost.
With the Government’s Knowledge
The local government has previously admitted the absence of more than half of the volunteering fighters. That was said by ‘Benyan Al-Garba’, member of Ninewa Governorate Council, who said that the total number of the mobilization forces on the ground does not exceed (7000) fighters and attributed the issue to ‘the non-provision of the military equipment necessary for the functioning of the remaining numbers’.
Some accuse the government of Baghdad itself of being involved in this file through its prior knowledge of the existence of large numbers of ‘spatial’ volunteers, not only in Ninewa but also in the two governorates of Al-Anbar and Saladin, with the objective of procuring the loyalty of those mobilizations’ leaders, who are all clans’ chieftains and politicians including members of the Council of representatives and six ministers.
Practically speaking, it seems that such a situation urges Iraq’s parliament to make the ‘Popular Mobilization Law’ No (40) of 2016, which was later on consolidated by the prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, on the 10th of last March when he gave instructions aiming to organize the work, service and retirement of the Popular Mobilization (in Arabic Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi) with his everlasting assurances that such forces are regarded as part and parcel of Iraq’s security forces.
Bezn Al-Gaboury, who leads one of the Sunni clannish mobilizations in Saladin Governorate, said in the course of press statements, “the majority of the numbers of the Sunni clannish mobilizations were granted as shares by the Prime Minister to Sunni politicians, instead of being given to the genuine bodies which had actually fought ISIL.
Al-Gaboury, who also nominates himself in the coming parliamentarian election, added saying, “The clannish mobilizations are not actually genuine fighting forces but the majority are mere compliments from Al-Abadi for political reasons and settlements and other considerations, simply because if the clannish mobilization is dissolved, nothing will change on the ground of reality, since such mobilizations had not shared in a single battle on the ground in spite of some of their sounding names as well as the registered big names of politicians leading them.
Such issue has been confirmed by military officers and is considered a fact known to all. Khalil Hassan said, “The clannish mobilizations are at the end of the day not more than scattering fighters with different loyalties and without any real training or precise organization and they are not reliable as regards security and military matters. They are only a part of a political process to gain the support of the local Sunni leaderships.
Researcher Ghazwan Jassem Kareem, who is busy writing a book about Ninewa clans after 2003, makes reference to that very same issue. When he received us at his home office in ‘Alwehda’ neighborhood, east of Mosul, he was then turning over papers close to him. He commented saying, “It is the same policy that had been adopted by Saddam Hussein when he formed what was then called the Kurdish national regiments to confront the Beshmerga forces at that time.” He added saying, “Such regiments were basically formed of Kurdish fighters known as ‘cavaliers’, under the leadership of chieftains of clans and Kurdish tribes. Those leaders had also been submitting lists of illusive fighters and the regime was quite aware of it and offered the clans’ chieftains large amounts of money as a high price for their loyalty.”
He began to turn over the papers he was tightly holding once again and said, ” Prime Minister, Haider Al-Abadi copied the same Saddam’s tactical process being cognizant of the fact that clans and tribes surrounding Ninewa are in fact ISIL’s incubator and main supporter and by neutralizing them, he could secure the back of his Iraqi forces in its anti-Jihadists’ war.”.
The Iraqi researcher notices that the largest number of the mobilization units’ leaders are descended from the regions situated south and west of the governorate. “These are the same regions where clans and tribes exist and consequently the hypothetical incubator of ‘ISIL’s organization”, he said.
The clannish mobilization regiments were distanced away from the fires of Mosul’s liberation war and were not allowed to enter or be stationed before ISIL’s forces are completely expelled from the area. Meanwhile, they were entrusted with some symbolic missions such as setting inspection barriers in some limited regions within Mosul and boroughs in Ninewa, whereas the actual control situation remained in the hands of the Shiite popular mobilization factions together with the federal police forces (the fifth and third regiments).
Pathway to the Ballot Boxes
With the widespread propagation of mobilizations’ leaders’ pictures nominated for Iraq’s parliamentarian elections throughout Ninewa, there was quite a firm persuasion that the main aim behind the formation of mobilizations for the Sunni local leaders was actually securing the financial support necessary for taking political positions or remaining in them. That was openly revealed by Hassan Salem, the head of the parliamentarian ‘Truthful Bloc’ (in Arabic ‘Kotlat Sadekoon’), who said, “All political blocs possess armed wings although the law of parties does not allow any party or political power to have such armed wings.”
With the object of narrowing generalization, another representative named ‘Muttsher Hussein’ addressed his member colleagues in the parliament saying, “We were elected by thousands of citizens to do tasks in the parliament and not fight in battlefields as many members are doing or claim to be doing today. There are hundreds of efficient officers capable of forming armed factions and get engaged in battles against ‘ISIL’ organization, and distance representatives from such heavy tasks which had regretfully taken another dimension towards gaining material and election propaganda gains.”
The lists obtained by the preparers of this investigation included names of (21) representatives from the Sunni governorates, who are now leading clannish mobilizations or in direct contact with them. Six are from Ninewa, namely; Haneen Al-Kadw’ (Hashd Shabaky), ‘Taleb Al- Mehmary’ and ‘Ahmed Al-Gabourri’, (Hashd Fersan Al-Gabour), and Younadem Kana(Hashd Sahl Ninewa), Abdel Rehim Al-Shamarry (Hashd Al-Nawader), and Abdel Rahman Al-Loweezy. They had all obtained open leaves from the parliament to lead their mobilizations and supervise their training.
The lists show that all the factions are led by a representative or a politician nominated for the coming parliamentary election or at least introduced a military personality in the running conflict to win a seat in the council. The most prominent example of this, is when ‘Ninewa Guards’ nominated their military leader ‘Yehia Al-Taleb’, within the list of ‘Iraqi Decision’ (in Arabic ‘Al-Karar Al-Iraqi), headed by Osama Al-Negeffy.
The parliamentary election is due to be held in May, with the participation of (6986) candidates including (947) from Ninewa. Meanwhile, (337) candidates were excluded from candidacy after being indicted under ‘Justice and Accountability Law’.
The day set for starting election propaganda campaigns (15 April) witnessed the existence of armed elements in the streets and public places whether inside Mosul or in its neighboring boroughs. They were hanging the pictures of the mobilizations leaders nominated for the election and managed to find them prominent places along the main streets, at the intersections and in the public squares, unlike the other candidates who were not supported by armed elements. Nominees encroached on public properties, according to a statement made by the director of Mosul Municipality in which he openly expressed the municipality’s failure to lift their encroachments.
A representative from Ninewa expressed his relief that his party chose not to renew trust in him in May election. He said that representatives and politicians fortified themselves with the mobilization factions after losing their financial benefits as a result of reducing their nominal salaries received from the parliament, and decreasing the number of their body guards. They also want to secure free media propaganda in the elections. “They think that their appearance with dusty faces in their military uniforms, carrying Kalashnikov guns will relieve the popular frustration from the political personalities of Ninewa”. The former representative added, “They do possess both weaponry and land. I myself cannot dare to criticize them using my own name.”
Demands for Dissolving Mobilizations
With the delay in carrying out the reconstruction operations in Ninewa, and with the growing popular suspicions encompassed with these operations, and with the existing large numbers of devastated houses and ruined buildings, and tens of thousands of jobless people, and in the light of the talk posted by activists on social media, based on the information obtained from security officers that the ‘atheist’ organizations started to re-organize their ranks; with all such frustrations, tension is growing in Ninewa over the possibility of beginning a new stage of stability and consequently putting an end to violence.
But how can that be achieved with the possibility of consolidating the presence of mobilization factions inside and outside the city to replace the regular security apparatuses, particularly with the increasing conflicts and struggles amongst different factions, a state of affairs that can take Ninewa back to the pre-‘Daesh’ stage.
It is worthy of notice that some limited armed confrontations had already taken place between Christian mobilizations in ‘Qarkoush’ borough and Yazidi factions in Sinjar. Other confrontations broke out in early 2017 between ‘Hashd Fersan Ninewa’ and elements from ‘Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi’, resulting in a number of injuries and rise of sectarian tension on the left side of Mosul which had just been liberated at that time.
There was also a quarrel with hands that broke out among the students within the campus of Mosul University in March 2018, which had turned the following day into a bloody fight among the clannish mobilization elements including the relatives of the two wrangling parties. That brawl came to an end only after the interference of Iraqi forces by virtue of a popular pressure and a website campaign launched by activists through social media messages.
To avoid sliding anew into a chaotic state of unwanted violence, activists from Ninewa demand imposing central domination over all mobilization factions. ‘Imad Khedr’, a student at the Faculty of Arts, Mosul University, says, ” After the defeat of ISIL, there is no reason whatsoever for the presence of such armed factions, and they must be integrated within the official security apparatuses and move outside the cities’ borders”. That very view was suggested by MP, Nayef Al-Shamarry, the parliamentary representative for Ninewa, demanding their integration within the military wings ” but after changing their current clannish names and function under other official names,”.
Another activist named ‘Kamel Saad’ warns against the everlasting remaining of mobilizations of different loyalties within the city or in its surroundings. “This means the occurrence of clashes and violations that might escalate under the current social, political and economic crises, leading at the end of the day to the recurrent domination of terrorism over the city, paving the way to imposing its underground rule over it, thus repeating the same tragic conditions that were widespread during the era of Al-Qaeda Organization rule.”, he said.
In the same context, Ali Khuder, member of Ninewa Governorate Council, does not only demand distancing the clannish mobilizations out of the city, but he also insists on dissolving them altogether sooner rather than later. “Simply because they are insignificant now and can hinder the function of the regular security authorities, attributing his call also to the relative stability the governorate is now witnessing.
A former security officer, who refused to mention his name, draws a more complicated picture of the current situation. He sees that Ninewa is now facing a big dilemma. “If the Shiite popular mobilization keeps on stationing at points within the city or in its surroundings, problems will arise with the people, mostly Sunnis. And if this mobilization withdraws in the absence of enough security forces, the theater will be left to the clannish mobilization which suffers from disintegration and multi-loyalty, besides the non-existence of a common unified leadership, due to the fact that the majority of its manpower are ‘spatial’ whereas the existent part lacks enough training and weaponry. All these factors raise suspicion that they would not be qualified to accomplish their duties, and that will eventually lead to leaving the destiny of the city to the black terrorism.”, he elaborated.
He concludes his viewpoint by saying, ” Ninewa’s clannish and political leaders formed their mobilizations to secure their privileges and influence and support their political role, and not to liberate or protect the governorate. ” Now they are racing to nominate themselves to the parliament resorting to huge propaganda costing millions of dollars to support their one thousand candidates. With such a large number of nominees, they could better form a big army and put their shoulder to the wheel and start cleaning the hard stricken city and get it reconstructed.
On the few clear unobstructed roads leading to the districts of the ruined ancient city, tens of thousands of immigrants are still impatiently waiting in makeshift shelter camps to be repatriated. There, some candidates’ pictures can be seen scattered on the debris of devastated houses. And close to the gateway to a mosque, there exists the only building that is being rehabilitated in the whole devastated region, whose grounds are scattered with dozens of badly decomposed bodies waiting for whoever can lift them to any burial place.
Amongst all such ruins, three workers are busy hanging a picture of one of the mobilization leaders’ candidates, one of them said smilingly while wiping his face with the edges of his shirt, “We told him nobody lives in this place as it’s completely destroyed. He said to us ‘no problem. Hang a small billboard’… We are helpless fighters in his mobilization and cannot refuse any of his orders.”
The above investigation was accomplished with the support of the Network of Iraq for Investigative Journalism “NIRIJ”, and under the supervision of Kammy Al-Melhem.