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Between a rock and a hard place in Iraq

Will the U.S. withdrawal sound a death knell for Iraq’s minorities?

ICC Note:

“Iraq’s ethno-religious minority leaders urgently have called on the Iraqi government to split off the eastern part of Mosul Province as a permanent refuge for the ancient ethno-religious communities currently disintegrating due to government neglect, public discrimination and terrorist violence. Yet, the Iraqi and US governments do not appear to be taking the proposal seriously,” Freedom Politics reports.

By Tina Ramirez

6/30/2011 Iraq (Freedom Politics) – Thursday’s congressional hearing on U.S. withdrawal from Iraq highlighted the continuous threat of ethno-religious divisions amongst Iraq’s ruling Kurdish, Sunni and Shi’a factions.  What was missing entirely from the discussion was any discussion of how Al Qaeda and various Shi’a militias are still active in the country, the political tensions which have been exacerbated in the past year, and failure of “reconciliation through politics” will leave Iraq’s most vulnerable ethno-religious minority communities at greater risk of being annihilated when the U.S. leaves.  One bi-partisan and bi-cameral policy being considered by Congress may provide some hope for those communities living – between a rock and a hard place – under the shadow of these larger and more explosive ethno-religious political divisions.

Since the Second Gulf War began, Iraq’s ethno-religious minorities, which make up approximately three percent of the total population, have accounted for a tremendously disproportionate number of refugees and victims of violence. Having been largely overlooked in the distribution of United States development assistance and security protection, the populations of these socially disfavored groups have shrunk at a disturbing rate. Pre-war Iraqi Christians numbered 1.4 million; now their population hovers around 400,000. Similarly, Iraq’s Yezidi population has fallen by about twenty percent from pre-war levels. And, finally, the Mandaean sect has almost been completely eradicated – falling to only 5,000 adherents, 10% of the pre-war level.

Congress recognized the nature of the crisis by directing US development assistance to support minority communities in the Nineveh plains and by providing some vulnerable Iraqi minorities access to the US refugee program. Nevertheless, absent any specific mandate from Congress, the preferred approach to the violence against these communities among Iraqi and American leaders for the last eight years has been to ignore the problem.   

The current US attitude reveals itself in the discussion surrounding a proposed “special province” for religious minorities. Iraq’s ethno-religious minority leaders urgently have called on the Iraqi government to split off the eastern part of Mosul Province as a permanent refuge for the ancient ethno-religious communities currently disintegrating due to government neglect, public discrimination and terrorist violence. Yet, the Iraqi and US governments do not appear to be taking the proposal seriously despite consideration of other new provincial governments nor have they offered any alternatives.

Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA) has and Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (D-CA) proposed that the US appoint a special regional envoy for religious minorities to ensure this issue is a priority. Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and Roy Blunt (R-MO) introduced companion legislation for the envoy position this week.  Although an envoy alone probably will not be enough to save all of Iraq’s indigenous ethno-religious communities, it could encourage the US and Iraqi governments to seriously consider creating another province on the Nineveh plains in northern Iraq. Such a province could ensure adequate economic and security resources were devoted to ethno-religious minority communities from the area near Mosul who are often overshadowed by the many problems there, and provide them with the political representation from which they have been marginalized everywhere else. Additionally, this province would also assure refugees that they still have an ancient homeland to return to in Iraq.

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