Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The insufferable plight and bleak future of Iraq's indigenous Assyrian-Chaldean Christians

Iraq's last official census (1987) counted 1.4 million indigenous Assyrian and Chaldean Christians. As Islamic zeal and Arab nationalism rose in the wake of Gulf War 1 (1991), Christians with means emigrated. By the time of the March 2003 US invasion, the Christian population of Iraq was estimated to be between 1.2 million and 800,000. Today, after 7 years of war, sectarian conflict, ethnic-religious cleansing and terrorism, a remnant of around 400,000 Christians remain.

The Shi'ite south has been virtually "cleansed" of Christians and few remain in the Sunni-dominated centre. Those displaced have mostly fled to the historic Assyrian homeland of the Nineveh Plains in Northern Iraq. According to a new report from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), figures verified by UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) report the total number of internally displaced people (IDPs) in Mosul, Nineveh, as 866 families (or 5,196 people) as of 4 March 2010.

However, the north of Iraq is not secure either. The Nineveh Plains is a fault-line region hotly-contested by Arabs (who invaded and occupied Mesopotamia in 630 AD) and Kurds (who invaded and occupied the Nineveh Plains in 1261 AD after King Salih Isma'il ordered them out of Turkey). Furthermore, terrorism targeting Mosul's churches and Christians has escalated ever since the US surge forced al-Qaeda elements out of the central provinces of Anbar, Baghdad and Diyala to relocate north.

In a programme entitled Heart And Soul -- Iraq's forgotten conflict, 25 April 2010, the BBC describes the systematic persecution of Iraq's religious minorities as "a campaign of liquidation".

The BBC reports that while US and British politicians refer to "the emergence of a pluralistic democracy", Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Louis Sako, of Kirkuk in Northern Iraq, begs to differ, contending that "200,000 Christians fleeing Mosul alone, in fear of their lives, and 1,000 murdered, is not much of a basis for pluralism or democracy".

And as the BBC notes: "It's not just Christians who suffer. Both Mandaeans, who speak Aramaic – the language of Christ – and the Yazidis, goldsmiths with a history going back further than Christianity or Islam, are fast disappearing, too. 'Does nobody care about what is going on here?' asks Archbishop Sako."

While Christians continue to flee Iraq, those who remain report being harassed and intimidated with threatening phone calls and letters. Many Christian women have taking wearing hijab to hide their Christian identity. Despite the pleas of church leaders, Iraqi Christian refugees are reluctant to return. Speaking in Damascus, Syria, Christian refugee Toma Georgees told Catholic News Service (CNS: 23 April 2010): "It's...impossible to turn back to Iraq. Our problem is not with the Iraqi government. Our problem is with Iraqi people…who want to kill us, who want to kill all the Christians."

See also:
On Vulnerable Ground
Violence against Minority Communities in Nineveh Province’s Disputed Territories
A report by Human Rights Watch, 10 November 2009

Incipient Genocide
The Ethnic Cleansing of the Assyrians of Iraq.
Assyrian International News Agency, June 2007, revised July 2009.

70 Christian college students wounded in targeted terror attack

Christians are so endangered in Northern Iraq that Christian students must travel to university in convoys with Iraqi military escorts. On Sunday morning 2 May, two bombs ripped through a convoy of buses transporting Christian college students from the mainly Christian town of Hamdaniya, 40km east of Mosul in the Nineveh Plains region of Northern Iraq, to the University of Mosul. According to reports, once the first buses had passed through the Kokjali checkpoint (which is manned by U.S., Iraqi and Kurdish soldiers) a car bomb parked on the shoulder of the highway exploded in their path, followed moments later by a roadside bomb. A local shopkeeper was killed and more than 100 people, including some 70 of the targeted Christian college students, were wounded; 17 critically.

Iraq: Christian students bombed
News24, 2 May 2010

Christians targeted in Mosul blasts
Aljazeera, 2 May 2010

Bombs Hit School Buses in North Iraq
By Sam Dagher, New York Times, 2 May 2010

Attack Highlights Unrelenting Plight of Iraq's Christians
By Patrick Goodenough, International Editor, Cybercast News Service (CNS), 3 May 2010

NEW: Pictures Show the Horror of the Mosul Bus Bombings of Assyrian Students
Assyrian International News Agency, 16 May 2010

Jamil Salahuddin Jamil (25), a geography major who was on the first bus, told reporters that one of his classmates lost her leg in the attack and two others were blinded. "We were going for our education and they presented us with bombs," he said. "I still do not know what they want from Christians."

Of course Jamil knows exactly what the Islamic militant fundamentalists want from Christians, he just can't bear to contemplate it, let alone verbalised it. For the Islamic terrorists, and the Muslim fundamentalists who support them, want Christians driven out of Iraq, and for those remaining to be 'utterly subdued' (Qur'an, Sura 9:29. Translation: Dawood).

On account of ignorance, many in West grossly underestimate just how hostile fundamentalist Islam is to Christianity. Consider the teachings of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most senior Shia cleric. He is revered in Iraq and touted in the West as a moderate. Yet he maintains that along with corpses, dogs, pigs, alcohol, urine, animal sweat, semen and blood, people who are "kafir" (unbelievers), i.e. Christians, Jews, Mandaeans, other non-Muslim including Sunnis, are "najis" (unclean). See Sistani on "Islamic laws" and "Najis things » Kafir".

According to Sistani, a kafir can become "pak" (clean) only by professing Islam. However, under the heading "Mutahhirat » Subjection Taba'iyat", he asserts that the child of a kafir, "becomes Pak by subjection" if he/she is captured by Muslims.

Sunni fundamentalists believe the same except that they regard Shi'ites, not Sunnis, as kafir and therefore najis. Sunnis and Shi'ites are mortal enemies and Iraq is a fault-line state between not only ethnic rivals Arabs, Kurds and Persians, but between sectarian rivals Sunnis and Shi'ites. See: RL Trend (Feb 2007) Shiite Ascendancy.

Multiple wars loom

When it erupts (and it eventually will), the battle for the Arab-Kurd fault-line provinces of Nineveh and oil-rich Kirkuk will engulf northern Iraq and draw in regional players. Once again, the Assyrian-Chaldean Christians, the region's indigenous/first peoples, will be collateral damage.

Meanwhile, the dark smoke of sectarianism is rising again out of the volcano that is Baghdad.

As Mustafa El-Labbad, director of the Cairo-based Al Sharq Centre for Regional and Strategic Studies, notes in Egypt's Al-Ahram, Iraqi politics is entirely sectarian. "Today, Iraq's political parties and personalities are not from the left, the right or the centre. Rather, they are above all Sunni or Shia. From here, one has to proceed to the regional dimension, which must also be regarded in sectarian terms. On one side, there is Iran, which backs the Iraqi Shia groups, and on the other there is Saudi Arabia, which champions the Sunni forces. Somewhere in between are Syria and Turkey."

The March 2010 elections, through which Iraqis voted for representatives to fill Iraq's 325-seat parliament, have yielded the following results:
  • former Prime Minister Ayad Alawi's secular Al-Iraqiya -- 91 seats
  • the Rule of Law list headed by PM Nouri al-Maliki (Shia) -- 89 seats
  • the Iraqi National Alliance (n Iran-backed Shi'ite coalition) -- 70 seats
  • the Kurdish Alliance -- 43 seats
  • the Iraqi Consensus Forum (comprising Sunnis and religious minorities) -- 32 seats
In line with Tehran's wishes, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law coalition and the conservative Shiite Iraqi National Alliance have entered a coalition that leaves them only four parliamentary seats shy of a ruling majority.

The Iraqi National Alliance (INA) is a union of two parties with close ties to Iran: the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) led by Ammar al-Hakim, and the Al-Sadr Movement. While the Iraqi National Alliance is headed by al-Hakim, it is Muqtada al-Sadr who will be calling the shots. For of the 70 seats won by the Iraqi National Alliance, 40 were won by the Al-Sadr Movement.

The primary point of contention between al-Maliki and the Iraqi National Alliance -- the issue that had been the primary obstacle to an alliance -- had been the choice of Prime Minister. As Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) reports: "The State of Law maintains that Nouri Al-Maliki is the only candidate for the position of prime minister. This view is not necessarily shared by Al-Hakim, whose party demands that the next prime minister be selected either by a vote of the members of the coalition to be formed or by consensus."

How this issue was resolved is not yet known.

Further to this, Al Jazeera reports: "While the resulting combination of 159 seats is just short of the required majority, the Kurdish Alliance of the autonomous Kurdish region's two long-dominant blocs holds 43 seats and has previously said it would join the new grouping if the two main blocs allied."

Maliki allies with rival Shia party
Al Jazeera 5 May 2010

Iraq's Shiites unite to try to form new government
By Qassim Abdul-Zahra (AP) 5 May 2010

also: Alliance-Making Toward Forming a New Iraqi Government – A Commentary (MEMRI)
and Muqtada Al-Sadr – The Voice of Iraqi Nationalism By MEMRI Staff

Al Jazeera reports: "The Iraqiya list of ex-premier Iyad Allawi took the most seats in the election with 91 but looks set to be squeezed out. . .

"Dhafir al-Ani, head of Iraqi Future Gathering, one of al-Iraqiya bloc components told Al Jazeera: 'It is a blow to the will of the majority of Iraqi people, who voted for Iraqiya. [Note: 91 of 325 seats is not a majority.] The new Shia merge that is backed by Iran, would pull Iraq back to sectarianism.'

"Allawi had warned that an alliance of the two major Shia blocs that attempted to exclude his coalition from government could result in a return to violence in Iraq, which was torn by sectarian bloodshed that killed tens of thousands in 2006-07."

The Washington Post notes: "Such an alliance threatens to undermine U.S. interests in two ways. It could exacerbate a sense of marginalization among Sunnis, prompting them to once again resort to violence. And it could give anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's movement, the biggest vote-getter within the Iraqi National Alliance, a dominant role in the government."

As Al-Ahram similarly notes, "Sectarian bloodshed" would play right into the hands of Iran and the Iran-backed Shi'ite parties. "In asserting its power in Iraq, it is likely that Tehran applied the following kind of cause-and-effect reasoning: eliminating and marginalising the Sunnis would provoke them into committing acts of violence; this violence would cause the collapse of the political process; this in turn would exacerbate the Iraqi quagmire for the US and, consequently, US forces, heavily embroiled in Iraq and Afghanistan, would not be able to launch a military offensive against Iran. Logic of this sort, perhaps with some minor adjustments, has since proved an almost fool-proof formula in chalking up the many gains that Tehran has scored in Iraq."
Seven fat years for Iran
Seven years after the US-led invasion of Iraq, everything points to the growing influence of Iran in Iraqi politics, writes Mustafa El-Labbad
Al-Ahram, 15 -21 April 2010, Issue No. 994

Enter Muqtada al-Sadr

According to Sami Moubayed, a Syrian political analyst writing for Asia Times Online, "Muqtada has been working hard for two years to transform the Mahdi Army into another Hezbollah, personally inspired by Hassan Nasrallah." This is, according to Moubayed, why Muqtada has been studying in the seminary in Qom, Iran. "He went back to the seminary, so he could elevate his academic credentials and rise from the rank of sayyed to that of an ayatollah (which enables him to issue fatwas) and grants him greater authority within the Shi'ite community at large. And that explains why, against all odds, he has insisted on refraining from any sectarian rhetoric, copying the Nasrallah model in Lebanon, who always speaks of Lebanon, not of Shi'ites.

"Muqtada also copied Hezbollah's massive charity network, monopolizing education, hospitals and fund-raising within the Shi'ite districts of Iraq to make sure that no family goes to bed hungry and all receive a monthly stipend from the Mahdi Army. Much like a modern Robin Hood, Muqtada is suiting himself to become spokesmen, defender and leader for the poor of Iraq.

"Now is the time to unveil the new Mahdi Army. It will look, sound and act like Hezbollah. No more street violence or sectarian tension triggered by the Sadrists. On the contrary, the Mahdi Army - this time with strong Iranian support - will replace the failed state of Maliki. It will extend an arm to the Sunnis and Kurds willing to work with it, making sure that no prime minister is brought to power, without full consent of Muqtada."

It is hard to see how the Saudis could tolerate a scenario that would essentially extend Iranian power right to the border of Saudi Arabia's oil-rich, Shi'ite-majority Eastern Province.

When ethnic and sectarian conflict resumes (as it eventually will) and Christians lose the state protection they are presently afforded, al Qaeda and affiliated jihadists will doubtless exploit the insecurity to advance the Islamist agenda and eliminate the Christian presence.

And Western Christians should not be tempted into thinking that such a horrific scenario could never eventuate. We must remember that Iraq's ancient Jewish community, which had roots dating back to the Babylonian captivity (587 BC) and had come to comprise the elite of Baghdad -- was eliminated through pogroms, killings and expulsion in the early 1950s. During that time, the newly-founded state of Israel rescued and then absorbed more 130,000 Iraqi Jews through Operation Ezra & Nehemiah. Now the indigenous Assyrian-Chaldean Christians are in the crosshairs, who will rescue them?