British MP calls for safe have for Iraqi Assyrian Christians

edwardleighpa_228×2901.jpgBy: Judy West.

A prominent British MP, Tory Catholic MP, Edward Leigh, has called on the British Government to urgently support the establishment of a self-governing province in northern Iraq for the AssyrianChaldean Christians and other communities living in the Nineveh Plain to jointly administer.

He stressed that this province is a key part of enhancing the security of Iraq’s decimated Christian community. Such calls for a self-governing province have been spearheaded by Iraq’s leading Christian political party, the Assyrian Democratic Movement (ADM), who have consistently polled over 80 per cent of the votes from Iraq’s Christian voters, making the ADM the democratically elected Christian political leaders of Iraq’s Christians.

The ADM have repeatedly called for a self-governing province linked to the Central Government in Baghdad, situated in the Nineveh Plain and consisting of the Tel Kaif, Al-Hamdaniya and Al-Shikhan Districts. The ADM want this province to be jointly governed by the AssyrianChaldeans, Shabak, Yezidis and other ethnic groups living there. Over 95 per cent of Iraq’s Christians are AssyrianChaldeans. Today, there are only about 600,000 Christians left in Iraq, compared to 1.2 million five years ago, as a result of Iraq’s unrelenting and escalating anti-Christian violence, which began shortly after the U.S-British military intervention of 2003. Since 2003 more than 700 Iraqi Christians have been murdered.

In a 90 minute House of Commons debate which Leigh secured regarding the persecution of Iraq’s Christians, Leigh said with reference to Britain’s duty to Iraqi Christians: “We have a duty of care to them, but our greatest duty of care is not to pick up the pieces when they flee, as is happening… Our duty is surely to help them to stay in their own country, which is what they want to do.”

He called on the British Government to listen to the voices of Iraq’s Christians, especially their elected representatives, the Assyrian Democratic Movement. Leigh also expressed concern that at least 58 Christian villages have been partially or wholly expropriated by Kurds and at allegations that Kurdish militias were involved in a series of killings of Christians in Mosul, which started in September 2008.

Liberal Democrat Christian MP, Tim Farron, strongly supported Leigh’s call for a self-governing province. He stressed that this is, “key to supporting the survival of Iraq’s Christian community. This is about survival, rather than separatism.”

Farron urged that the Foreign Office should recognise the ADM as a voice of the Christian people of Iraq and the strong electoral support from Iraqi Christian voters which they have consistently had. He urged the Foreign Office to enter into regular dialogue with the ADM.

But the Foreign Office Minister, Bill Rammell, refused to commit the British Government to supporting the ADM’s call for a self-governing province, claiming that it is a matter for the Iraqi Government and that support for the province within Iraq’s Christian community is divided.

Jubilee Campaign’s Researcher and Parliamentary Officer, Wilfred Wong, says: ” The Foreign Office has a clear responsibility to help Iraq’s Christians remain in their country and supporting the self-governing province as requested by the ADM is a crucial part of doing this. Such a province would provide an urgently needed area of safety for Iraq’s Christians.

“The fact that the ADM has led the calls for this administrative region and has consistently polled over 80 per cent of votes from Iraqi Christian voters indicates overwhelming support from Iraq’s Christians for the self-governing province. This is a fact which the Foreign Office repeatedly chooses to ignore and they should not simply wash their hands of the matter by leaving the issue only to the Iraqi Government.”

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