Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Written Evidence


Written Evidence submitted by the Jubilee Campaign

COMMENTS ON THE SECTION ON IRAQ IN THE FCO'S REPORT

INTRODUCTION

  1.  The Jubilee Campaign is an interdenominational Christian human rights organisation which campaigns on human rights issues worldwide. It serves as Secretariat to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Street Children and also has United Nations consultative status.

  2.  The FCO's 2006 annual human rights report's section on Iraq (pages 66 to 77) fails to mention in any specific detail the desperate situation of Iraq's second largest ethnic minority, the ChaldoAssyrians, who are also the largest religious minority in Iraq, as they make up over 95% of the Iraqi Christian community. The ChaldoAssyrians are also the indigenous people of Iraq, having settled in that area long before it came under Arab domination.

  3.  Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, ChaldoAssyrian organisations have recorded the killing of over 100 Iraqi Christians. Christians have been subjected to escalating violence in Iraq. The indigenous ChaldoAssyrians are being targeted for violence by several different groups due to their distinct ethnicity and faith. Although the indigenous people of Iraq, they are a double minority in their own ancestral homeland since they are both an ethnic and religious minority.

  4.  While the average Iraqi faces many risks in the unstable situation in Iraq, Iraqi Christians are exposed to even more dangers as they have to deal with the additional threat of attacks from Islamic extremists, who want to drive them out of Iraq, kill them or force them to convert to Islam simply because they are Christians. In addition to that, many insurgents mistakenly perceive Iraqi Christians as being staunch supporters of the Coalition forces, because of their shared faith with the "Christian West", and this has resulted in even more attacks against Iraqi Christians.

  5.  The ChaldoAssyrians also face additional problems from their neighbouring Kurds in northern Iraq, some of whom have used violence against ChaldoAssyrians or illegally expropriated Christian villages and land depriving many ChaldoAssyrians of their livelihood and shelter. At least 58 ChaldoAssyrian villages have been misappropriated by Kurds and repeated representations to Kurdish leaders for the return of this land have so far been ignored. This is one example of the inability of ChaldoAssyrians living under Kurdish domination to obtain proper redress for their grievances. Some ChaldoAssyrian land was also confiscated under the regime of Saddam Hussein and either given to Iraqi military and intelligence personnel or rented to Kurds or Arabs. Until now the land has yet to be returned to its ChaldoAssyrian owners.

  6.  The ChaldoAssyrian Christians are a highly vulnerable community under siege. While there is no danger of the Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds or Arabs vanishing from Iraq or having their communities in Iraq reduced to a tiny remnant, there is a real danger that this may happen to the ChaldoAssyrians in the near future unless their security situation vastly improves.

  7.  Tens of thousands of ChaldoAssyrians fled to neighbouring countries such as Jordan and Syria after lethal and coordinated church bombings by Islamic extremists killed at least 12 people and injured many more in August 2004. One significant indicator that the ChaldoAssyrian community have been disproportionately affected by the violence in Iraq is the report by the UNHCR that Iraqi Christians make up about 36% of refugees from Iraq despite the fact that they only comprise 2 to 3% of the Iraqi population.

  8.  Below are just a few examples of Iraqi Christians being attacked for their faith:

  8.1  On 9 October 2006, a prominent ChaldoAssyrian priest, Fr Paulos Iskander, was kidnapped by an Islamic group and beheaded on Wednesday, 11 October.

  8.2 Many Christian Churches in Iraq have received threatening letters from Islamic fundamentalists. Bishop al-Qas of Amadiyah, in the Kurdish region, said that posters had been put up urging Christians to convert to Islam or leave the country.

  8.3  ChaldoAssyrian Christians have received threatening letters telling them to support Muslim rebellion against the Coalition authorities and practise Islam or suffer the consequences. The recipients of these letters are told to follow the Muslims' basic rules of wearing the Islamic veil and following Islamic teaching. If the recipients do not submit and comply, then it is threatened that they will be raped, tortured, killed, kidnapped, or have their house, along with their family, burned or bombed. Muslim extremists are calling Iraqi Christians "crusaders" or a fifth column for the Christian West and the Americans.

  8.4  Three Christian bishops in Mosul have received letters ordering them to permit the marriage of Christian women to Muslim men, a process which often involves the woman's conversion to Islam, and threatening to kill one member of each Christian household as punishment for women not wearing the Islamic veil.

  8.5  Islamic extremists conducted lethal terrorist bombings on Sunday 1 August 2004 against five churches in Baghdad and the northern city of Mosul, which killed 12 people and injured many more. Bombs exploded at two churches in Baghdad on 8 November 2004. Both churches were bombed within a space of five to ten minutes. At least three people were killed and 40 injured. On 16 October 2004, five ChaldoAssyrian churches in Baghdad were targeted and bombed by Islamic extremists. Nobody was injured.

  8.6  On 26 June 2004 a grenade was thrown at the Holy Spirit Church in the Akhaa quarters in Mosul. The explosion caused serious injuries to one person.

  8.7  The ChaldoAssyrian Christian community in Iraq, despite being one of Iraq's indigenous ethnic groups, is in a far more vulnerable and weak position than the Kurdish, Arab, Shiite or Sunni Muslim communities in Iraq.

SUGGESTED ACTION BY THE BRITISH GOVERNMENT

  9.  The fact that the Iraq section of the FCO's annual report gave no specific reference or focus to the desperate situation of Iraq's Christian community suggests that the Foreign Office has gravely underestimated the vulnerability of this community and the intensity of the pressures and attacks they are facing.

  10.  The British government should take practical steps to assist Iraq's Christians including the following measures:

  10.1  One significant way of enhancing the security of the ChaldoAssyrians is to grant them an administrative region as has been guaranteed under Article 53(D) of Iraq's Transitional Administrative Law. Article 53(D) of the Transitional Administrative Law states: "This Law shall guarantee the administrative, cultural and political rights of the Turcomans, ChaldoAssyrians, and all other citizens."

  Such an administrative region can act as a safe haven for Iraq's Christians and would also encourage the tens of thousands of Christians who have fled Iraq, especially in recent months, to return to their ancestral homeland.

  This province should be located in the Nineveh Plains and include the Al-Shikhan and Al-Handaniya Districts. These areas are at the heart of the ChaldoAssyrians' ancestral homeland and are still heavily populated by ChaldoAssyrians. This province would be jointly administered by ChaldoAssyrians and other ethnic groups historically linked to the area such as the Yezidis, and would be linked to the central government in Baghdad. What is being requested by the Assyrian Democratic Movement (ADM) and its supporters is a province for the ChaldoAssyrians and others historically linked to their region, which is linked to the central government in Baghdad. It would thus be a gross misunderstanding of this request to interpret it as an attempt to break up the Iraqi state.

  10.2  The ADM has consistently received more votes from Iraq's Christian population than any other political party and this indicates that their strong stance on wanting a self-governing province for ChaldoAssyrians in northern Iraq has widespread support among Iraq's Christians.

  10.3 The long and tragic history of massacres and genocide against the ChaldoAssyrians has demonstrated that they cannot rely on other ethnic groups to manage their affairs and provide them security. For example, in Dohuk province the ChaldoAssyrians live under the control of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) who have refused to heed ChaldoAssyrian appeals for the return of their 58 villages which have been partially or fully illegally occupied by Kurds. To make matters worse, the KDP has even encouraged Kurds from countries outside Iraq, such as Syria, to go and settle on the ChaldoAssyrian land. Furthermore, the KDP has done relatively little to protect the ChaldoAssyrians and very few Kurds who commit crimes including kidnapping and murder against ChaldoAssyrians are ever brought to justice. There have in fact been a number of incidents where the KDP authorities have handed over ChaldoAssyrians to Kurdish mobs who killed them.

  10.4  During the Iraqi elections in early 2005, up to a hundred thousand ChaldoAssyrians and thousands of others were prevented from voting in northern Iraq because of KDP interference with the election process. This significantly reduced the chances of ChaldoAssyrian candidates being elected to the Iraqi Parliament and is yet another stark example of the many difficulties which ChaldoAssyrians living under KDP control have when it comes to obtaining their rights.

  10.5  Failure to grant the ChaldoAssyrians their own province will keep many of these Christians in northern Iraq under Kurdish control which will inevitably perpetuate the discrimination and injustices they are suffering under the Kurds. Such ongoing friction between the two ethnic groups could eventually lead to an all out armed conflict. It is thus crucial for peace and stability that the ChaldoAssyrians be granted a province where they can control their own affairs.

  10.6  Most ordinary ChaldoAssyrians see their hope for better security and self-determination within Iraq in the setting up of a province for the ChaldoAssyrians. It will also be an effective way of preventing discrimination against the ChaldoAssyrians in law enforcement because in that region the ChaldoAssyrians will be responsible for overseeing their own security needs. For example, in one incident when a ChaldoAssyrian family's home was broken into by some Muslims, the family urgently begged the Iraqi police to come and assist them but were simply told to take care of themselves. This kind of police indifference is highly unlikely to occur in a ChaldoAssyrian province where they are operating their own police force.The need for such a province is especially urgent at a time when violence targeted specifically at the ChaldoAssyrians is escalating and the British government and its U.S ally should play an active role in helping to bring this about.

  10.7  The KDP should also be pressured by Britain and the U.S to ensure that all the land and villages illegally expropriated by Kurds are returned to the ChaldoAssyrians and the violence, kidnapping and other crimes against ChaldoAssyrians in KDP controlled areas are punished. It does not appear that the Foreign Office has taken much or any action in this area and neither has the Foreign Office supported the creation of an administrative region for the ChaldoAssyrians. It is a matter of grave concern that the Foreign Office appears content to take a passive stance while Iraq's third largest ethnic group, the ChaldoAssyrians, are steadily eradicated from their ancient homeland.

  10.8  The British government and its U.S ally should also financially support the redevelopment and reconstruction of ChaldoAssyrian villages and infrastructure and the return and resettlement of ChaldoAssyrian refugees and give whatever support they can to the Christians of Iraq to enhance their security and protection.

  10.9  By assisting the reconstruction of ChaldoAssyrian villages and infrastructure and the return and resettlement of ChaldoAssyrian refugees as well as helping the ChaldoAssyrians with their security and protection, the British government would be enabling the return of tens of thousands of ChaldoAssyrian refugees who have in recent years fled Iraq and thereby empower a force for moderation within Iraq. Furthermore, if the ChaldoAssyrians had their own province and much of the rest of Iraq became increasingly Islamised, their region would very likely be a positive example to the rest of the country of good governance, religious tolerance and moderation.

  10.10  The ChaldoAssyrians together with moderate Muslims in Iraq are the main bulwarks against the growth and spread of Islamic fundamentalism in that country. If the Iraqi Christian community is reduced to a tiny remnant, it will have little or no power to oppose the imposition of Islamic law in Iraq. The presence of a vibrant Christian community in Iraq also adds much strength to the ability of moderate Iraqi Muslims to oppose the spread of Islamic fundamentalism.

  10.11  The British government would be making a grave mistake if it viewed the plight of the Christian community in Iraq as simply a side issue peripheral to the major events affecting that country. It is the non-Muslims who are the natural allies of moderate Muslims opposed to the spread of militant extremist Islam in Iraq. Even if the British government has yet to fully realise this, there can be little doubt that many of the Islamic extremists are already aware of this, which is one reason why they are now focusing their attacks so strongly on the Iraqi Christian community.

Wilfred Wong

Researcher and Parliamentary Officer

Jubilee Campaign

February 2007





 
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Prepared 29 April 2007