Kurdish Attacks Leave Assyrians Vulnerable Throughout Iraq

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After the Islamic prayers on Friday, December 2nd, hundreds of Kurds staged [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VV3CXlEwTOw&feature=player_embedded[/youtube]coordinated attacks against Assyrian businesses, residences, religious sites, and cultural centers in more than half a dozen cities in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq over the course of several hours without any meaningful intervention by the Kurdish authorities. On Monday, December 4th, Assyrian Christians received death threats should they re-open their businesses.

These attacks come one month after the Kurdistan Regional Government introduced a new elections law which would erase all minority quota seats at the district and city levels in the Kurdistan Region, and Christian Assyrian businesses serving liquor in Ankawa, a suburb of Arbil, were closed by the local governing council. This legal discrimination is chilling, particularly in light of the history of persecution, genocide, and massacres Assyrians have endured over the centuries.
While it has been generally recognized that the larger cities of Baghdad, Mosul, and Basra, dominated by Shiite and Sunni Arabs , are relatively unsafe for Christian Assyrians, it is often been claimed that the Kurdistan Region can serve as an effective safe haven for Assyrian Christians.

These acts taken together strongly suggest that the Kurdistan Region is not safe for Assyrians, including Chaldeans and Syriacs, even if it is safer than other parts of the country. Moreover, independent human rights organizations have documented the significant abuses of Assyrians and other minorities by Kurdish authorities. Indeed, the Wall Street Journal reported on December 5th that by sending its security forces outside of its own legal borders to patrol the Nineveh Plain, the last major Assyrian enclave remaining in Iraq, Assyrian leaders legitimately fear that the Kurdistan Regional Government is working to annex the Nineveh Plain for their own purposes. The apparent inaction of the KRG to intervene in the December 2nd mob attacks within its borders reinforces distrust by Assyrians that the KRG security forces in the Nineveh Plain is not acting in the interests of Assyrians in the area.

It is disappointing that the State Department has passed a blind eye over these abuses for the sake of political expediency and has made no significant effort to develop a comprehensive policy for the survival of Assyrians in Iraq. Now with attacks on seventy churches, an existential exodus of over half of its pre-war population of 1.2 million have fled the country as refugees, and the legal discrimination and terrorism witnessed in the KRG, the only viable mechanism for Assyrians to remain in Iraq is for the development of an administrative area or province in the Nineveh Plain under the central government of Iraq, as provided by the yet to be implemented Article 125 of the Iraqi Constitution. Such an area would allow Assyrians to share local self-control in proportion to their population in the area.

We urge you to build upon language proposed by the Senate Appropriations Committee for the State and Foreign Operations Appropriation of 2012 and further developed by a bipartisan group of Representatives lead by Representatives Sander Levin, Gary Peters, Robert Dold, and Anna Eshoo:

“The Committee continues to recognize the importance of providing targeted assistance to ethno-religious minorities in Iraq to help ensure their continued survival, especially those living in the Nineveh Plains region. The Committee directs the Department of State to submit a report, not later than 60 days after enactment of this act, detailing a comprehensive U.S. Government policy to assist these communities, including assistance consistent with Article125 of the Iraqi Constitution; assistance in building an indigenous community police force in the Nineveh Plains; and efforts to support NGOs in the region. The policy should be forward-looking, rather than a summary of previously funded projects and initiatives.”

We implore the United States Congress to pass this language. The brazen terrorism against Christian Assyrians this past weekend, one year after the brutal All Saint’s Day massacre at Our Lady of Salvation Syriac Catholic Church in Baghdad, leaves little doubt that without concerted intervention, Assyrians, and with them Christianity, are at serious risk of disappearing from Iraq within a decade. The United States cannot afford this outcome as its legacy after years of struggle and national sacrifice in Iraq. America’s interest in seeing a thriving democracy in Iraq requires that the United States act to preserve Assyrians as the important moderating force they have played throughout history to today’s modern day Iraq.