New Iraqi security force registers lobbyists

An Iraqi security force and political party have registered to lobby political officials in Washington as part of a trend of minority groups looking abroad to augment their ties with the bureaucracy in Baghdad.

Both the Assyrian Democratic Movement — a political party for ethnic Assyrians in Iraq — and crowd-funded security forces called the Nineveh Plain Protection Units will be represented by the Nineveh Plain Defense Fund, a nascent nonprofit in Illinois.

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The defense fund “is supportive of policies that would provide financial, logistical, and training support directly to the Nineveh Plain Protection Units of Iraq,” it says in a pair of federal filings released last week, “as well as policies that would provide financial, logistical, humanitarian, and economic development support directly to the indigenous ethnoreligious minorities of the Nineveh Plains of Iraq and their non-governmental organizations.”

The forms maintain that political activity is not the groups’ main purpose in the U.S., but that the organizations may influence American policy “in the performance of our mission.”

The security forces, which claim to be recognized by the Iraqi government, are built around ranks of volunteers who have rallied to defend the minority ethnic Christian group from the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The growth of the Nineveh Protection Units’ ranks was spurred in some part by a crowd-funding campaign in the U.S. and Europe, which sought to bolster Christians in the fight against ISIS.

“We are working with the government of Iraq,” Elmer Abbo, the president of the Nineveh Plain Defense Fund, told The Hill on Tuesday. 

“We have every hope and anticipation that the government is going to continue to support us as they have been, and yet we want to amplify and augment what the government is doing for us so that we ensure that our position to ensure our survival is in the strongest position possible.”

The strategy is not dissimilar to that of minority Sunni Muslims in Iraq, who have lobbied Washington for direct support after feeling shut out by the Shia-dominated central government. 

In a newsletter earlier this year, the Restore Nineveh Now Foundation, which has links to the Nineveh Protection Units, claimed to have won a major victory with the inclusion of a mention that Assyrians could be at risk from ISIS in annual defense policy legislation. 

“It is a huge step forward,” the organization said. “Not only were Assyrians listed specifically, by name, but their security forces were singled out, identified as a must-have part of the defense of the Nineveh Plain.”

 

Megan Wilson contributed to this report, which was updated with new information at 3:21 on March 8.