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Iraqi Christians to Congress: Please help

Autonomous province could preserve dwindling community

ICC Note:

“We are not asking to put all Christians in one region, nor are we asking for a safe haven or an ethnic or religious-based entity. We simply want to have our rights, so people can see light at the end of the tunnel and stay in Iraq instead of leaving.”

By Kenneth R. Timmerman

3/1/2011 Iraq, U.S. (Washington Times) – Iraq’s ancient Christian communities have been decimated by jihadi Muslim terrorists who have bombed their churches, kidnapped their loved ones and summoned them to submit to Islam or die. Since the U.S.-led liberation of Iraq, roughly two-thirds of the pre-war Christian population of 1.5 million has fled Iraq.

But now Christians face a more pernicious threat – gradual extinction thanks to day-to-day harassment from the Kurdish occupation forces in the Nineveh Plain, where corruption, a lack of development funds and the continued political stalemate have led many Christians to flee the country for exile abroad.

“Christians are like the meat in the sandwich between Arabs and Kurds,” the mayor of Tel Keif, once the largest Christian town in the Nineveh Plain, told me during a recent interview at his home in northern Iraq.

Although the Nineveh Plain falls under the authority of the Nineveh governorate, headquartered in nearby Mosul and run by Sunni Arabs, since 2003 it has been controlled by militia forces loyal to the Kurdish Democratic Party of Massoud Barzani, who also is president of the Kurdish regional government.

The Kurds moved into the Christian heartland during the chaotic weeks after the U.S.-led liberation of Iraq in 2003, claiming that their militias alone could provide security for the Christians and other minorities living in the area.

During last year’s elections, the Kurdish security forces, known as as-Sayeesh, prevented Christians from voting for their own candidates in a repeat of the failed elections of 2005. “They went house to house, telling people to vote for the KDP [Kurdistan Democratic Party] candidates and threatened them if they did not. They arrested people who spoke out and outlawed election rallies by other parties,” Mr. Mikha said.

The main Christian political parties in Iraq have formed a “minorities council” along with representatives of the Yazidi and Shabak communities and officially have demanded that the Nineveh Plain be allowed to form a separate province, or governorate, under the terms of the Iraqi constitution.

“We are not asking to put all Christians in one region,” said Smael Benjamin, a member of the political bureau of the Assyrian Democratic Movement, the best organized of the Christian parties. “Nor are we asking for a safe haven or an ethnic or religious-based entity. We simply want to have our rights, so people can see light at the end of the tunnel and stay in Iraq instead of leaving.”

The near extermination of Iraqi Christians has been an unintended consequence of the U.S.-led liberation of Iraq in 2003. There is still time – but not much – to make it right. The creation of an autonomous province in the Nineveh Plain, free of Kurdish domination, is the last best hope for preventing the mass exodus of the remaining Christians from Iraq.

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