British MP visits Christians in Iraq

edwardleighpa_228×2901.jpgBy: A staff reporter.

Edward Leigh, a British Catholic MP, recently visited Christians in northern Iraq in mid-September, as part of a fact-finding mission jointly organised by the Assyrian Democratic Movement (ADM) and the Jubilee Campaign. 

Edward Leigh, a British Catholic MP, recently visited Christians in northern Iraq in mid-September, as part of a fact-finding mission jointly organised by the Assyrian Democratic Movement (ADM) and the Jubilee Campaign.

The delegation also consisted of Emmanuel Yacoub, a representative of the ADM’s UK branch and Wilfred Wong, Researcher and Parliamentary Officer for the Jubilee Campaign. The visit’s objective was to examine firsthand the situation of Iraq’s Christians.

The delegation found a decimated Christian community under pressure and attack from many different sides. Over 700 Christians have been killed in Iraq since the 2003 US-led military intervention. They said that Iraq’s Christians have lost about half of their community since then. Thousands have fled anti-Christian violence, ending up as impoverished refugees in neighbouring countries such as Syria and Jordan.

Today there are only about 600,000 Christians left in Iraq. Over 95 per cent of Iraq’s Christians are AssyrianChaldeans, the descendants of the Assyrians of Old Testament times. They are Iraq’s indigenous people, with a continuous presence in that land for over 6,000 years.

The delegation found that Iraqi Christians face a wide range of threats. They have to deal with attacks from Islamic extremists, who want to drive them out of Iraq, kill them or force them to convert to Islam, attacks by insurgents who mistakenly view the Christians as close allies of the “Christian” West, abduction by kidnappers who think that the generally well educated Christians are more wealthy than other Iraqis and having large areas of their land and many of their houses misappropriated by neighbouring Kurds in northern Iraq in what appears to be a systematic attempt by the Kurds to take over Christian-owned land and drive them out of the Kurdish region of Iraq. At least 58 Christian villages have been partially or wholly misappropriated by the Kurds.

Edward Leigh MP, Emmanuel Yacoub and Wilfred Wong visited numerous Christian villages during their stay in northern Iraq and were told by many of the Christians how their land and houses and sometimes even their sources of water had been misappropriated by the Kurds. In every single case the Kurdish authorities failed to ensure that the misappropriated property was returned to the Christians. In some cases it has even been the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the ruling political party in the region, who have misappropriated Christian land.

For example the KDP office at the Christian village of Kany Masy was built on Christian-owned land without the owner’s permission. The delegation found that in the area of northern Iraq under Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) control an environment of impunity prevails, where Christian-owned property is often viewed by many of the Kurds as simply there to be taken.

The delegation was informed that the KDP is even encouraging Kurds from abroad to come and settle in the region as part of their systematic attempt to Kurdify the entire area and push out the AssyrianChaldean Christians.

Edward Leigh MP said: “Iraq’s leading Christian political party, the ADM, have long called for a self-governing province to be established for the AssyrianChaldeans, linked to the central government in Baghdad, situated in and around the Nineveh Plains, including the Talkepeh, Hamdaniya and Bashika Districts, and governed by the AssyrianChaldeans and other ethnic groups living in that area, as these lands form part of the ancestral homeland of the AssyrianChaldeans and are still heavily populated by them.

The ADM have consistently received the highest number of votes from Iraqi Christians at elections, indicating that their call for a province is strongly supported by the majority of Iraq’s Christians. This province would provide better security for the Christians and encourage many of the thousands of Iraqi Christian refugees in neighbouring countries to return and live there.

The delegation added that if the AssyrianChaldeans do not get their province then the KDP will probably eventually annex the Nineveh Plains to Kurdistan and much of the property of the AssyrianChaldeans living there will be misappropriated by many of the Kurds as currently happens elsewhere in northern Iraq.

“The Kurds are already trying to establish a foothold in that region. I saw numerous Kurdish military checkpoints set up in the Nineveh Plains by the KDP although they have no authority to do this and less than one percent of the population there is Kurdish,” said Mr Leigh.