Christians Abandon Iraqi City

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(Source: McClatchy/Tribune)SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq _ Iraq is finding that it can’t even pay Christians to return to the troubled city of Mosul.
The government is offering displaced Christian families up to $1,300 if they return to their homes. The government has also boosted the number of security forces in the city by 35,000 and pledged to make additional resources available if members of the Christian community come back.

But for many of the 2,000 families _ about half the city’s Christian population _ who fled Mosul after the killing of two Christian women last month, it’s simply not enough. They fear that they will become the next targets of Muslim extremists in the area.

Safa Nathir Kamu, a 42-year-old engineer who fled to Erbil province, about 40 miles east of Mosul, said neither money nor talk of security would prompt him to return.

“We would like to go back home,” Kamu said. “We need security, but unfortunately security in Mosul is nothing more than pictures on TV.” The U.S. military has blamed al-Qaeda sympathizers for targeting Christians in Mosul, the capital of Nineveh province and a stronghold of the Sunni insurgency.

Of course, Christians, most of whom are either Assyrians, Chaldeans or Catholics, aren’t the only ones who have suffered from violence in recent years, But they have been particular targets. Many had long since fled to Iraqi Kurdistan, Syria and rural sections of the Nineveh plains.

Following the latest attacks, Mosul deputy governor Khasro Goran promised that “tough security procedures (were) in place.”

But the steps have done little to ease the fears of Mosul’s Christian community.

“Government procedures are not good enough,” said Qriyaqus Mansur Gorgis, the chief of Bet Nahrain, an Assyrian party in Mosul. “It’s true that there is a heavy security presence in the city, but Christians are still targeted. So what’s the use of (added security)?” The latest round of attacks aimed at Christians has also reopened the long-standing debate between Christians and Kurds over whether Iraq’s minorities should have autonomous administrative areas of their own.

While some Christians have fled to Kurdish-controlled areas in the north and see the Kurds as protectors, Qasim Amin of Kurdish Human Rights Watch said that many of the internally displaced actually blame the Kurdish authorities for their plight.

Kurdish parties hold substantial political power in Nineveh province and have been accused of discriminating against other minority groups, a charge Kurdish leaders in Mosul hotly deny.

“There is some sort of political stupidity in believing that the Kurds are behind displacing Christians,” said Khasraw Goran, Mosul’s deputy governor and a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party. “Even if an earthquake rocks Mosul, chauvinists in the city would accuse Kurds of being behind it.” But some Christians, along with minority groups, believe that the creation of an autonomous administrative region in Nineveh is the only way they can be assured of political power and protection from future attacks.

Minority groups voiced alarm earlier this month when the Iraqi parliament voted to guarantee six of the 400 provincial council seats to small religious and ethnic minority groups _ a number they felt was too small.

“Autonomy is the sole way out of these crises,” said Romeo Hakari, the leader of an Assyrian political party in Mosul.

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ABOUT THE WRITER

Hisham Mohammed Ali is a reporter in Iraq who writes for The Institute for War & Peace Reporting, a nonprofit organization that trains journalists in areas of conflict. Readers may write to the author at the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 48 Grays Inn Road, London WC1X 8LT, U.K.; Web site: www.iwpr.net. For information about IWPR’s funding, please go to http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?top_supporters.html.

This essay is available to McClatchy-Tribune News Service subscribers. McClatchy-Tribune did not subsidize the writing of this column; the opinions are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of McClatchy-Tribune or its editors

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