Nawzat Shamdeen and the Nineveh Investigative Team / Mosul
“Supported by the strength of the Popular Mobilization factions” and their near-absolute authority following the “liberation of Nineveh” battles at the end of 2017, and encouraged by “administrative and legal chaos”, the Shiite Endowment in Mosul puts its hand within a few months on “real estate treasures”, including real estate that was controlled for many years by the Sunni Endowment and before it the Ministry of Endowments.
This is what a Mosul activist who has been following for more than a year the transfer of many properties from the administration of the Sunni Endowment to the Shiite Endowment.
He briefly says , describing the status people close to the Sunni Endowment echoes which has prevailed during the last two years, that “One sign placed by an armed faction at the entrance to a property was sufficient to make it subject to its control, and to terminate any claim to it from any party, even if this party possesses official documents proving its ownership.
“They have put their hands on real estate treasures that generate big money, without anyone daring to object,” he adds, smiling with his hands at some sites on a modern map.
On the sidewalk of the main street in the northern region of Nineveh, one of the examples was found, through a large metal sign topping a distinct plot of land, on which was written “Plot No. 3/41 Northern Nineveh Province was registered in the name of the dissolved Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs , and it is (today) under the administration of The Shiite Endowment Office ”. This land was leased to Uday Hussein Mohsen Al-Amara, and the land was designated as a market for selling second-hand clothes.
It is a warning sign more than a description. Adjacent to it, stands a large picture of the religious authority Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, in what some consider to be a marketing of the legitimacy of the act or place, and at the top of the picture the saying of the supreme reference in which he addressed the Sunnis in Iraq during the sectarian war in 2006 and 2007: “You are Ourselves.”
“Al al-Bayt Real Estate”
The accusations against the Shiite Endowment in Mosul do not stop at tampering with the real estate file or private property and state land. The Sunni Endowment in Nineveh spoke of the attempts of its Shiite counterpart, backed by forces from the Popular Mobilization Forces, to control real estate that had been endowed for decades by Sunni citizens for the Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs, which after 2003 became two Endowments – Sunni and Shiite.
Researcher Abd al-Sattar Saeed says: “Once a Mosque bears a name common to the Shiite community, the hand is placed on it as a Shiite heritage, which arouses anger among the religious communities in Mosul.”
Because of the Popular Mobilization Forces’ control over most of the decision-making process in Mosul and the fear of the consequences of its criticism, that discontent remained locked in private conversations and statements issued by the Sunni Endowment which were neglected by the Nineveh governorate’s office, that had three governors in less than one year.
Through a search and investigation that spanned for months, it became clear to us that members of the PMF had put their hands on about seventeen properties registered in the name of investments that were affiliated with the Sunni Endowment in various areas of Mosul, and that those properties had already been declared for investment in favor of the Shiite Endowment.
Since mid-2017, the PMF factions have controlled the shrine of Yahya bin al-Qasim in the Khatuniyah area, built on the plot numbered (487), and the shrine of Imams Hamed and Mahmoud in the al-Mahmoudin vicinity ,built on the plot numbered (302), and the shrine of Imam Ali al-Asghar in al-Faruq Street near al-Nuri Mosque (which included the leaning ‘al-Hadba’ Minaret) and the building on the plot numbered (175), and the shrine of al-Abbas bin Ali in the Gold Market on the plot (115).
The PMF factions also control the shrine of Ali al-Hadi in the vicinity of al-Mahmoudin on the plot numbered (327), the shrine of Lady Umm Kulthum in the locality of al-Midan on the plot numbered (191), the shrine of the daughters of al-Hasan bin Ali in the vicinity of al-Hosh Khan on the plot numbered (52), and the shrine of the Imam Abd al-Muhsin in the Khatuniyah area on the plot numbered (378), the shrine of Lady Fatima in the vicinity of the Khatuniyah on the plot numbered (377), and the shrine of Imam Abd al-Rahman in the al-Khatuniyah area near the fifth bridge on the plot numbered (13), and the shrine of Imam al-Baher in the area of al-Sheikh Fathi on the plot number (133), the shrine of Lady Shah Zanan in the Hammam area on the plot (119), the shrine of Ali al-Asghar in the Great Mosque area on the plot (93), and the shrine of Imam Awn in the locality of Awn al-Din on the plot (7 part 13/187), and Dosa Ali in the neighborhood of Mosul plot (118/117), and the shrine of Lady Nafisa in the locality of Jawlaq plot number (63), and the shrine of Zaid bin Ali in Bab al-Baid, block (93),as well as other real estates bearing a religious, commercial and even residential character.
Some of these sites were completely destroyed and flattened by the military operations during the liberation war, which were concentrated on the right side of Mosul. Nevertheless, the Shiite Endowment decided to offer it for investment, as well as other real estate on the left side of Mosul, which prompted the Sunni Endowment Authority, represented by the Endowment Funds Administration Authority, to seek assistance from the “Crisis Cell” that was formed in Nineveh after the end of the hostilities, and demanded that it address the prime minister to stop Shiite Endowment procedures to no avail.
Many of the tenants of the properties that the Shiite Endowment put their hand on, complained about the possibility of canceling their contracts concluded with the Sunni Endowment years ago, which means losing their businesses that they are practicing, which are mostly inherited, such as Animal shops, Brass shops, and Perfume shops in the old city market.
One shop renter in the property No. (162) in the right side of Bab al-Saray, filed a complaint along with his neighbors, to the Sunni Endowment, stating that someone told them that the property had been converted into the Shiite Endowment.
This shop owner – like most real estate owners in this investigation – asked not to mention his name or indicate the commercial name of his shop for fear of “militias”, he says: “A person visited us and brought papers stating that he had contracted with the Shiite Endowment to invest the property for a period of one year, and demanded us to call him back to arrange for a new lease contract with a new mechanism and value. ”
As is the case with the rest of the real estate that the Shiite Endowment has placed its hand on, these shops were owned by the Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs and they were endowed by a Sunni family from the city of Mosul.
However, according to the “Endowment Quotas”, it became a disputed issue between the two Endowments, which was then settled by the presence of the Shiite factions on the ground.
Those factions that spread inside the city of Mosul and on its outskirts following the battles to liberate it in 2017, in which they had a clear role, most notably Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, Saraya al-Khorasani, the 30th Brigade, Al-Shabaki, the Babylon Brigade and the Hezbollah Brigades, all control almost every security decision in the city, and strongly influence administrative decisions.
The story of the struggle over the properties of the Endowments began after the issuance of Law No. (19) of 2005, which stipulated that the Shiite Endowment can possess and exploit every property such as a Mosque, Shrine, , or Tomb bearing a name from the names of Al al-Bayt family.
A source in the office of the Shiite Endowment informed us that the methods currently used in monitoring and identifying real estate before starting the acquisition procedures in favor of the Endowment “are conducted with witness testimonies of real estate bearing the names of Al al-Bayt family or through an inventory of documents in the real estate registry” ,that is to find the name of one of Al al-Bayt family names on the real estate documents, and “it is not necessary that the real estate itself is known as such or it has a related name sign on it.”
He added: “If real estate documents were found relating to a land, a house, or a commercial shop, with the phrase“ I endowed it for the so-and-so Mosque in the name of Al al-Bayt” for example, then this is sufficient evidence of property belonging to the Shiite Endowment”.
The Shiite Endowment was based on Law No. (19), ignoring a later law amending it which was issued in 2008 and stipulates that the first law does not include real estate with Endowment proofs, that is those that were endowed by Sunni citizens who still possess papers in the land registry to prove this, and it has someone who supervises it as “Guardian”.
Any place bearing any of the names mentioned in the first law has become a target, and members of the Popular Mobilization Forces head to seize it, despite the presence of a “Guardian” supervising it.
Writer and researcher Jamal Ali Mahmoud differentiates between the Mosque, shrine, tomb, and the sanctuary: “The first is a place of prayer, the second is a place where a historical religious figure resided and left after that, so that place becomes sacred later, and the tomb is where the religious figure is buried, and the sanctuary is where he only passed the place without staying.” .
He says that some of these seventeen shrines, tombs, and the sanctuaries which were acquired by the Shiite Endowment, date back to the late Abbasid era, pointing out that “most of them are not real in origin and there are no shrines of ‘righteous allies’ and they are not related to personalities from Al al-Bayt family , but the residents of the city respect them because of the names they bear which are sacred names for Sunnis too. ”
He points out that the confiscated Endowment properties belong to Sunni families from Mosul, who had endowed them decades ago before the establishment of the Iraqi state, and their documents are in the Ottoman Tabu, but the problem is that they are not registered in the Iraqi land registry.
Mahmoud excludes that the goal of the PMF in providing cover for the Shiite Endowment in obtaining these properties is to bring about demographic changes in the future, “because the city is inhabited by an absolute majority of Sunnis and there is no possibility for such changes, and the Shiites are a minority in Mosul, who live in small neighborhoods on the outskirts of the eastern city and in the Nineveh Plain outside Mosul, as well as in the west in the Tal Afar district.
Rather, he attributes the PMF factions’ interest in these properties to a purely Material Reason, and “the evidence is that they immediately take possession of any of these properties by announcing them for long-term investment and collecting the rental price in advance even without waiting for the results of any investigation regarding the property’s ownership to the Sunni or Shiite Endowments.” .
The director of the Shiite Endowment in Nineveh, Bassam Muhammad al-Bayati, refused to make any statement related to this matter due to what he said was a directive he had received from the Higher Endowment Department. In line with his position, Hanin al-Qaddo and Qusay Abbas, the two parliamentarians representing the Shiite Shabaks in Nineveh, also refrained from answering a question that we posed to them, which suggests an agreed Shiite position regarding Endowment properties.
Salah Al-Talafari, a Shiite writer and activist, is surprised by what he described as a fabricated uproar by the Sunni Endowment Office in Nineveh regarding Endowment properties. He said that many of the meetings and consultations took place between the two Endowments through specialized committees to break up and isolate the overlapping real estates between the two parties after the Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs was canceled.
He said, “This is under a clear law clause. It is not a judgment or overriding of any party over the other. A solution to any problems that occurs should be through judicial channels and not media statements and political auctions that will not work”.
Al-Talafari indicated that Shiites had passed through Mosul centuries ago, and it is natural to have shrines and sanctuaries bearing their names. The Sunni Endowment can simply present the Endowment documents that prove their belonging to a Sunni Endowment or owned by a trustworthy Custodian, and then there will be no dispute”.
“I’m not afraid”
After the liberation of Mosul from ISIS, large signs appeared on vacant lands in some parts of Mosul indicating that the property had become the property of the Shiite Endowment and was invested in accordance with its law, which surprised many of the city’s residents.
The same happened to the land opposite the “Prophet Yunus Mosque” on the left side of Mosul, which was rented by a Shiite citizen from Nineveh with an annual amount of 170 million dinars from the Shiite Endowment in 2018.
Likewise, in the “Prophet Seth” area on the right side, specifically the land numbered 4/196. A large sign erected there indicated that the land would be invested as commercial shops leased by the Shiite Endowment.
In light of the silence of the local government in Nineveh and its consent by just monitoring the ongoing conflict between the Sunni and Shiite Endowments, the people resorted to Courts to prove the ownership of properties seized by the Shiite Endowment to their inheritors, by highlighting the Endowment evidences in their possession.
Some have succeeded in that endeavor, just as happened to the Naqshbandi Tekkeyah in Mosul, which was returned to its Custodian in 2018 after the Shiite Endowment annexed it to its properties.
The same story is being repeated today with a lawyer specialized in real estate who intends to open a case concerning “the Mausoleum of Yahya Abu al-Qasim” and “Qadib al-Ban Mosque” on the right side of Mosul. The Shiite Endowment has put its hand on them despite the fact that they have two Custodians, and seizing them is “totally illegal,” as he says.
The lawyer ‘Saad Ali ‘seems confident that the two cases will be resolved in favor of his clients, saying: “As long as the Endowment has (Custodians), no one can touch it.”
Regarding the threats that he may be exposed to as a result of his pleading in these cases, he added: “I am not afraid of anyone, because I know that those who carry out the threat are elements that look for gain and do not represent the true face of the PMF that liberated Mosul from ISIS and made great sacrifices in doing so.”
The lawyer differentiates between two types of Endowments, the first is “Controlled” type, meaning that a person endows his property and declares his inability or desire to manage it ,so he entrusts it to the Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affair (it was canceled after 2003 and Endowment properties were divided between the Sunni and Shiite Endowments). The other type was the “Attached type” Endowment, where the property is still being managed by the “Custodian”.
The law stipulates that in case the Endowment is “Controlled”, its administration must pledge to the first judge in the Sharia court, “but what happens with many Endowments is otherwise,” the lawyer says, referring to what is currently being seized by the Shiite Endowment.
In early 2019, the Shiite Endowment issued a letter in which it demanded that the Sunni Endowment remove its hand from managing a number of properties in its possession. Then it issued a decision to invest the acquired real estate by renting them out.
This was in conjunction with a statement in which the Shiite Endowment indicated that these properties belong to the Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs dissolved after 2003.Their return is not settled, and it is entitled to invest them until a decision is made.
In return, the Sunni Endowment demanded a halt to the expansion of its Shiite counterpart in Mosul, noting in a statement made by its head, Abu Bakr Kanaan, that “the Sunnis love the people of Ahl al-Bayt just as the Shiites do and they give their names to their children as well as to religious places.” “Therefore, it is not reasonable that the Shiite Endowment acquire any property named after one of Al al-Bayt family.
Muhammad Abd al-Wahhab al-Shamma, a journalist and religious preacher, described what the Shiite Endowment is doing in Nineveh as a “trick” saying: “When the Iraqi Ministry of Endowments was dissolved and divided, whoever endowed his property to a Sunni Mosque, the Endowment is transferred to the Sunni Endowment, and who endows a property to Shiite party ,being a Shiite, the Endowment is transferred to the Shiite Endowment.
Having previously worked for a short period after 2003 as director of the Sunni Endowment in Nineveh, he pointed out that “ there is a copy for every Endowment document in the Sunni Endowment Office, the Land Registry , the Court, and with the owner of the Endowment or whoever inherits it in the Endowment. This is enough evidence that can disprove any contradictory claim in court “.
The Sunni Endowment called on the Prime Minister to activate the law issued in July 2008, which stipulated the adoption of the Endowment evidence to prove ownership, supported by the ‘Legal Partition’ document (a document used in Iraq to determine the heirs and their shares in inheritance granted by the Personal Status Court).
Employee (T.B) who works in the investments of the Sunni Endowment describes the practices of the Shiite Endowment as “illegal” and “does not help the return of civil peace.”
He continues: “How can they invest in real estate that they do not own? It is only the power of the weapons they own that allow them to do so “, warning that the lease contracts will not be legitimate, because “What is based on Null is Null “.
And he warns that such behavior will lead to a new sectarian crisis in Mosul, and that the “Statements War” will turn into a War with Weapons.
The employee points out that the Sunni Endowment Department has no choice but to send letters and correspondence to its references in Baghdad and Nineveh Governorate, but both do not have the power to do anything, “especially that the expansion of the Shiite Endowment did not stop at the borders of real estate bearing sacred names for the Shiites, but expanded with the support of the PMF factions to control commercial real estate, especially in the old cemetery on the left side of Mosul, which was already rented by several citizens, in addition to numerous violations in historical areas such as the Mosque of Nabi Yunus”.
(T.B) recalls a decision issued by the dissolved Nineveh Provincial Council, which decided to suspend the Endowment property acquisition procedures until they are verified, but what happened, according to him, is that “the decision was applied only to the Sunni Endowment while the Shiite Endowment did not comply with it.”
The PMF denies
The Popular Mobilization Forces, in separate statements, denied the accusations directed against it of trying to bring about demographic changes in the Sunni-majority city of Mosul. One of which was issued by the official of its office in Baghdad, Abu Diaa Al-Sagheer, in which he stated that “there is absolutely no truth to the existence of such sectarian operations. The presence of the PMF is official and legal, and its goal is to protect the people of the province, not harm them”. Al-Sagheer even denied the existence of “PMF representation inside the city center.”
But the deputy from Nineveh Governorate, Abd al-Rahim al-Shammari, believes that the process of controlling the Sunni Endowments in Mosul, regardless of its purpose, is taking place in the shadow of government silence, without indicating a role for the PMF in this.
Al-Shammari accuses the head of the Shiite Endowment Office, Alaa Al-Mousawi, of “dominating and controlling the Endowments of the Sunnis.” and he says, “This is taking place in light of complete government negligence, which threatens to cause sectarian strife in a city that has just emerged from a war that destroyed half of it.”
The role of the Popular Mobilization Forces, according to people familiar with the file, is highlighted by the fact that some of its leaders in Mosul, through the force of arms, intimidate those who object to the decisions to annex real estate to the Shiite Endowment and invest it.
These accusations, which are rejected by the PMF and are considered to come from hostile parties, agrees with “testimonies” of some of the city’s residents which reveal the practices carried out by the PMF factions, especially the “30th Brigade,” which is the confiscation of agricultural lands and residential and commercial properties close to shrines or sanctuaries of the Shiites in the Abbasid area, north of Mosul, and in the Ali Rah Sh region, to the east of it, which is the village of Major General Waad Al Qaddo, who holds German citizenship, and whose name was listed by the US Treasury Department, along with other leaders of other factions on the terrorism list last year, on charges of violating human rights and engaging in corrupt practices.
These properties belong to Sunni citizens of the city of Mosul, and many of them were forced to sell them, or they were seized and exploited by the leaders of this active brigade in the Nineveh Plains that set up military checkpoints on the road linking the governorates of Erbil and Nineveh, according to citizens who own real estate there.
“N, Suleiman,” owns twenty dunams (a dunam is equivalent to 2,500 square meters), one kilometer from the shrine of Zain al-Abidin bin Ali in the village of Ali Rah, east of Mosul. He received a call from a person from the “30th Brigade” threatening him to transfer the ownership of his land with the price set for him, otherwise, he will never be able to access it.
Suleiman has been living in Erbil in the Kurdistan region since 2014 and says that he keeps the bond of his real estate, and that one day he will return to exploit it “when the abnormal conditions existing in Nineveh change”, ruling out the idea of selling despite the offers he constantly receives at attractive prices of more than 100 million dinars offered by people believed linked in one way or another to the 30th Brigade”.
In light of the “Unequal” conflict because of the tilt of the scale to the Shiite Endowment due to the presence of the Popular Mobilization Forces supporting it in Mosul, as complained by clerics, who intend to issue a ‘Fatwa’ prohibiting citizens from renting real estate that the Shiite Endowment has seized and offered for rent.
Sheikh Daham justifies this by saying: “The presence of weapons in the hands of any party means, in one way or another, that escalation will generate a problem that will lead to violence and thus to security deterioration. This is what we are trying to avoid by the available peaceful means.
Researcher Bassam Muhammad, a specialist in Endowments affairs, asks: “The faith of the endower in Nineveh is Hanafi, so what is the relationship of the Shiite Endowment to it?” He believes that the Shiite Endowment’s seizure of real estate is a fix for the mistake of the one who dissolved the Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs and shared religious real estate between the two Endowments.
According to him, “The Sunnis have an applied Endowment doctrine, and generation after generation have endowed more properties than the Shi’ites, including buildings, gardens, and commercial stores. As for the Shiites, they have a different system, which is the “One Fifth” system, and they are not used to donating real estate properties for a Mosque.” This is why what happens today is a “balancing act between the two Endowments, where the Shiite Endowment exploits the status quo in Nineveh for its benefit.”
Researchers say that, with the exception of a Shiite Mosque located in the Al-Faisaliah area on the left side of Mosul, the rest of the Mosques and religious monuments in Mosul are Sunni and this is well-known, noting at the same time that the city’s vicinity on its eastern side includes shrines and sanctuaries surrounded by Shabaki villages, the majority of which are Shiite.
To confront what they describe as the systematic seizure of Sunni real estate with commercial goals, a number of families who manage Endowment properties in Mosul, were not satisfied with what they possess of documents, but resorted to the Ottoman Archives Department in Istanbul-Turkey. They obtained documents for the same properties and are preparing to include them in the files of the claims they are establishing to resolve the dispute over it between the Sunni and Shiite Endowments in Mosul.
A researcher specializing in Endowments affairs, Bassam Muhammad, points out that the conflict between the two Endowments is not limited to real estate in Nineveh only, but the situation is similar in other regions of the country such as Salah al-Din, Babil, Diyala, Anbar, Baghdad and Basra, warning that “the people of the city are accumulating discontent and anger at the actions of the armed forces that govern Mosul and control real estate in favor of the Shiite Endowment”.
In a letter they signed and submitted in 2018 to the Presidency of the House of Representatives, 13 deputies representing the province of Ninawa demanded that the issue of Sunni Endowment properties be raised in one of the sessions, but this has not yet been achieved.
The deputies called for a halt to what they described as “a contravention and violation of the Shiite Endowment on the properties of the Sunni Endowment,” and “to allow the Judiciary to separate the ongoing real estate disputes between the properties of the two Endowments, and not to lay hands and impose this as a de facto matter.”
Awaiting government and parliamentary action that may never come to address the file, people in Mosul believe that the Shiite Endowment, supported by the PMF, will continue to “impose the lost balance” in the properties of the two Endowments, through control and ‘de facto’ rule over many of the Endowment properties in the largest Sunni city in Iraq.
* The investigation was completed with the support of the “NIRIJ” Investigative Journalism Network and published on the “Daraj” website.