Smoke rises from clashes with Islamic State militants in the southeast of Mosul, Iraq. Hopes for a refuge for Christians and other minorities at the Nineveh Plain in northern Iraq may have been dashed by a vote in the Iraqi Parliament.
Plans for the creation of a new Christian province in northern Iraq’s Nineveh Plain appear to have been scuppered by a vote in the Iraqi Parliament in favour of maintaining the administrative border of the province of Nineveh.
Hopes had been growing for a refuge in the heart of the old Christian area where Iraq’s Christians could live in peace alongside other minorities including the Yazidis. Congressman Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska introduced a bi-partisan bill into the US House of Representatives earlier this month calling for the move.
But Iraq’s Parliament appears to have blocked the plan after a vote was requested by Ahmed al-Jarba, a Sunni MP representing the Nineveh province, according to the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA).
“The Iraqi people reject any decision that partitions the Nineveh province,” al-Jabra said. “The people of the city determine the destiny of their city in the post-Islamic State (ISIS) stage.” The MP added that any changes to the legal and administrative status quo will be unconstitutional.
Meanwhile, the leader of the Assyrian Christian party Bet al-Nahrain, Romio Hakkari, told Kurdistan24: “We do not want to be part of the possible Sunni autonomous region in Iraq.”
Hakkari, who travelled to Washington to lobby for the creation of a new province, said that Sunnis in Nineveh discriminate against Christians in the area, AINA reported.
Local Christians are increasingly desperate for a safe space of their own following two years of onslaught by ISIS.
Earlier this month, Father Jamil Gorgis, a local priest in Dohuk, where about 75,000 Christians from Mosul have found refuge, told Rudaw: “Almost all Christian refugees who come to my Church to pray would favour to live in a Christian region or province under international protection.”
In 2014, some 80,000 Christian refugees fled Mosul and the Nineveh Plain under threat of forced conversion or execution by ISIS. Hundreds of civilians were slaughtered and more than 400,000 forced to flee in northern Iraq. There have been reports of men being rounded up and killed before being left in mass graves, and women being brutally raped and sold as sex slaves.
Most of Iraq’s 1.5 million Christians have fled in the last decade and it is thought there could now be as few as 200,000. More than a hundred churches and monasteries in Mosul have been destroyed by Islamic State in just two years.
It has been reported that ISIS is leaving mines in the Nineveh Plain as its fighters flee the area.
The idea of a safe space for Christians and other minorities in northern Iraq has been in circulation for many years but has gained new urgency since 2014.
In 2011, The US-based Iraq Sustainable Democracy Project said it was “a stated political objective of all major Assyrian political groups and institutions.”