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Minority communities in Nineveh appeal for protection

11/15/2009 Iraq (IRIN) – Iraq’s minority communities in the northern province of Nineveh have appealed to local and national authorities for protection amid warnings of an increase in attacks against them in the run-up to January’s national elections.

“As Christians we have been feeling insecure since the 2003 [US-led] invasion as we are subjected to killings, kidnappings, extortion and displacement by different parties due to either political agendas or extremist ideologies,” said Ihsan Matti, a 33-year-old taxi driver in Mosul, provincial capital of Nineveh.

Matti said Iraq’s security forces were slow to respond to any anti-Christian attacks and left their communities vulnerable to more violence. “The government still doesn’t deal with the threats we face seriously. We are still facing the same threats without any sustainable measures [to counter them].”

Since 2003, minority communities have been repeatedly attacked by Sunni militants, the majority of whom were affiliated to al-Qaida in Iraq, by their own admission. The militants accuse minorities of being crusaders, devil-worshipers, infidels or traitors for co-operating with US forces.

In October 2008, a new wave of anti-Christian violence erupted in Mosul when gunmen started attacking Christians and threatening others, forcing them to leave the city either to displacement camps or outside the country.

Abdul-Raheem al-Shimari, head of the provincial Security and Defence Committee, warned that such attacks were likely to increase in the province in the run-up to January’s national elections, as minority communities had a significant stake in them.

On 10 November, New York-based NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) shed light on another source of repression for these minority communities in Nineveh; the longstanding territorial dispute between the central government and the Kurdish regional government.

It its 51-page report titled “On vulnerable ground”, HRW said minorities in the disputed northern areas are caught between the semi-autonomous regional authorities of Kurdistan and the central government in Baghdad. It said the ongoing dispute threatens to create a “human rights catastrophe” for these communities.

“The competing efforts to resolve deep disputes over the future of northern Iraq have left the minority communities who live there in a precarious position, bearing the brunt of conflict and coming under intense pressure to declare their loyalty to one side or the other, or face consequences,” the report said.

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