Saturday, 10 December 2011
Can We Trust the Kurds to Protect Religious Minorities in Iraq?

Source:  Christian businesses torched by Kurdish Muslims in Iraq

When Operation Iraqi Freedom began in March 2003, there were approximately 1.4 million Chaldean-Assyrian Christians in Iraq, almost a decade later more than  800,000 have fled to safety in refugee centers and their Diasporas in the West, leaving less than  600,000 remaining.  Given the leave taking of US forces from Iraq at the end of this month, the safety of Iraq’s Christians and other minorities, Yezidis, Mandeans and others, is in doubt. Many who fled were valued allies of invading American forces who destroyed the tyranny of the regime of the late Saddam Hussein. However, sectarian conflict between the minority Sunni Arab and majority Shia populations has trapped many Christian communities, forcing them to flee internally to the areas controlled by the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) and enclaves held by the Assyrian Democratic Movement (ADM) on the Biblical Plains of Nineveh in northern Iraq. 

The threat to the continuity of this ancient Christian community in Iraq is the subject of a novel by Kenneth Timmerman, St. Peters’ Bones that we reviewed in the March, NER,  “Assyrian Agonistes”.  In our companion interview with Timmerman, we raised the prospect of the fragile safety for Christians in the areas controlled by the KRG.  Note this exchange;

Gordon:  Given your recent trip to Iraq, what if anything is the U.S. doing to alleviate the plight of Christian minorities . . . in Iraq?

Timmerman: Under President Obama the U.S. is doing nothing. They are putting no pressure on Al-Maliki in Iraq.  . . . I just returned from Northern Iraq  . . . I can tell you that this is a community that is on the verge of extinction. The Assyrian Chaldean Syriac community in Iraq constitutes the indigenous people of Iraq. They have been there for millennia. They are being driven out by Jihadi Muslims on the one hand and by Kurdish Nationalists on the other. 

I think that the Kurds are divided. Many members of the Kurdish Regional Government such as Prime Minister Barham Saleh and many others in his government are striving to do the right thing and see themselves as protectors of the Christians. What you do have is an ethnic conflict between the Assyrian Chaldean Syriac community and the Kurds that dates back hundreds of years. You have land encroachment; you have the Kurdish Democratic Party Intelligence Service harassing Assyrian leaders throughout the Nineveh plain. This is part of a larger goal on the part of the Kurds to bring the Nineveh plain within the Kurdish Regional Government and annex it.  . . . I believe that Congress and the President should become engaged and push Prime Minister Al-Maliki to purge his security forces and allow the Christians their rights under the Iraqi Constitution to form an autonomous province in the Nineveh Plains. This is the only thing that will keep Christians in Iraq.

On Friday, December 2nd, there was a rampage by Kurdish Muslim youth roused by a fundamentalist Imam to set fires to liquor stores and other properties owned by Christians and Kurdish Yezidis in the city of Zakho and other communities in the KRG zone.

Watch this video of the riots, with clear cries of Allahu Akbar

According to an AINA report:Kurdish Regional Government Continues to Fail Vulnerable Minorities in Iraq”:

The attacks were ostensibly directed against establishments 'offensive to Islam', such as those which distribute alcohol owned by Christians. Shortly after the attacks in Zakho, violence erupted in Simele, Dohuk, Shioz, Amadiyah, Derelok and Zaweeta,

These mob attacks have raised the question of whether the KRG can be trusted to secure the area and protect Christians and other religious minorities, in northern Iraq.

This was the subject of a Fox News, report “Mob Attacks on Iraqi Christian Businesses Raise Security Concernsand the AINA article.  The FoxNews report did not identify the Kurdish Muslim youths as the perpetrators of the attacks on Christian and Yezidi businesses in Zakho and other communities. It noted the scope of the rampage and the comments of US House Rep. Frank Wolf of Northern Virginia, a long time advocate for aid to oppressed Christians in the Middle East.

Yonadam Kanna, a Christian member of the Iraqi parliament and secretary-general of the Assyrian Democratic Movement, confirmed to that dozens of shops -- many Christian owned -- were attacked across multiple cities. 

"The extremists prepared themselves to attack on more locations ... but they were prevented by local police and security in addition to some guards from the villages," Kanna said in an email. 

          [. . .]

According to local media in northern Iraq, the attacks began after a sermon Friday by Mala Ismail Osman Sindi, who reportedly railed against massage parlors in the community. A Muslim mob subsequently tore through the streets to destroy not only a massage parlor but more than two-dozen other businesses. The mullah later denied responsibility for inciting violence in an interview with the Iraqi newspaper Rudaw

Kanna catalogued the damages. He told that in Zakho alone, 16 liquor stores were attacked, 13 of them Christian owned and the rest owned by members of the Kurdish Yazidi community. 

The attackers also targeted Yazidi-owned hotels, 11 Christian-owned hair salons, and the massage shop -- which according to Kanna is owned by a Muslim man. 

According to the news site, business owners later received death threats in the event they reopened. 

[. . .]

 "The Iraqi Christians ... are living in fear," said U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., who is pushing for the creation of a special religious freedom envoy in the region. "Now with the forces leaving ... I think the Iraqi Christians are going to go through a very, very difficult time." 

The AINA report, in addition to describing last week’s mob attacks cited recommendations to both the US and international community to alleviate the plight of the dwindling Christian community and other religious minorities  in Northern Iraq:

These events, and decades of violence perpetrated with impunity, belie the notion that Christian Assyrians can live safely, and enjoy full equality and full protection of their rights in the KRG. Given the desperate situation of the Christian Assyrians and other vulnerable minorities, such as Yezidis and Shabaks, it is necessary for the international community to target these peoples with specific policies meant to preserve their existence in their homeland.

Recommendations for the United States of America:

1.   Prioritize passing legislation in the 2012 appropriation already approved in the United States Senate which articulates the clearest form of an 'Iraqi Vulnerable Minorities Policy' seen to date.

2.   Use the remaining stages of the 2012 appropriations process to expand the language and reallocate not less than $75 million of the 2012 appropriation for Iraq in support of the language.

3.   Work towards a USG policy on Iraq's vulnerable minorities that reinforces support for the minorities as they pursue: i) the creation of a province in the Nineveh Plain via Article 125 of Iraq's constitution, ii) expansion, training and resourcing for the Nineveh Plain's local police force and increasing fair inclusion of vulnerable minorities in Iraq's various security services, iii) ensuring an increase in development funding that is channeled through independent NGOs.

4.   Finally, the USG should freeze all funding for development and economic support projects in the KRG until the recommendations listed below are realized.

Recommendations for the International Community, including the United States:

1.   Call for swift governmental action to prevent any further attacks in the short-term;

2.   Require a transparent, well-resourced investigation into the violence;

3.   The capture and full prosecution of all involved with emphasis on the fundamentalist Imams inciting the attacks;

4.   A full report into how this was allowed to happen and governmental measures to prevent its recurrence;

5.   Ensuring that measures of restitution for the victims are realized;

6.   Sanction companies engaging in bilateral oil deals with the KRG, requiring them to freeze business until the KRG brings the perpetrators to justice and provides full restitution to the victims; and

7.   The creation of a longer-term agenda of providing justice and restitution for the long list of serious crimes committed with impunity against Christian Assyrians, Yezidis and other minorities.

Posted on 12/10/2011 7:14 PM by Jerry Gordon
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