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Minorities in Parliament/Christian Persecution
A connection between Mosul's Christians, Kurd/Arab tensions, and Article 50?
By DANIEL W. SMITH 10/28/2008 6:03 PM ET
Photo: Iraqslogger

BAGHDAD - On September 24, a long-awaited law passed which allowed for provincial elections to be held in Iraq in early 2009. It was rightfully lauded as a great victory, but here were two conspicuous concessions included.

One was the Kirkuk would not be included, due to a bitter dispute, mostly between Kurds and Arabs, over whose territory the oil-rich region is. The issue could not be solved, so Kirkuk was simply excluded from the upcoming elections, along with three other Kurdish provinces. The other eyebrow-raising part of the agreement was the suspension of Article 50, which guaranteed a certain number of parliament seats to some of Iraq’s minority groups. This caused widespread condemnation from those ethnic and religious groups, which include Christians, Yezidis, Shabaks, and Sabeans.

On Monday, the United Nations envoy to Iraq Steffan de Ministura, proposed that a quota for minority Parliament seats be reinstated for the elections. On the same day, key members of the parliament accepted the proposal, and decided to postpone their one-week recess which was to begin that day, to discuss the status of Article 50. Said Arikat, the spokesman for the U.N. Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI), told us “At the time, we were concerned that the electoral law was not inclusive in regard to the minorities, and so we submitted the proposal to reinstate the measures. It’s up to them now.” They held their first of two days of discussion and debate on the matter on Tuesday.

If passed, the twelve proposed seats guaranteed to minorities are as follows - In Baghdad: three seats for Christians, one seat for Sabians. Nineveh: three for Christians, three for Yezidis, one for Shabaks. Basra: one for Christians.

The persecution of Christians in Mosul, (which have been targeted in the past by insurgent groups made up largely of Arabs) began at the same time that minority groups were denied their quota of Parliament seats (a move mostly orchestrated by Arab coalitions). This has led some to draw the conclusion that there was a concerted effort on the part of some Arab groups to disenfranchise Christians, but it may not be so simple.

From what many are saying, both the violence toward Mosul’s Christians and the suspension of article 50 may have less to do with any animosity toward Christians, and more to do with the power struggle between the Arab dominated central government in Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in the North.

The 2005 elections were famously boycotted by Sunni groups as well as some others. The populations who boycotted before are expected to vote this time, and are likely to substantially change the makeup of the Parliament's 275 seats. Kurdish parties stand to lose their current percentage of seats, and are doing everything they can to keep them. Some within minority groups in the North have charged that the main Kurdish parties of the PDK and the PUK have been pressuring them to join the Kurdish coalition, thus strengthening it.

Yonadam Kanna, a Christian Parliament member from Mosul who has been a leading figure in the talks to reinstate the Article 50 told Iraqslogger, “Some of our friends in the Islamic Arabic parties are worried that if we (Christians and other minorities) are given more positions, we will just vote with the Kurds, and give the Kurdish lists more power. Everything is about this. They have an idea that the Kurdish parties control us, and so we have given them guarantees that we will vote with our populations, not as the Kurdish parties tell us to. I give them this guarantee, and I hope that they will accept it. I think that tomorrow, after the second meeting, we will have a better idea.

When asked about the mass exodus of Christians from Mosul, Kanna said, “The fact is that from Mosul, over 2350 families have been displaced to Nineva Plain (villages to the North and East of Mosul) and more than 150 families have been displaced to someplace else, like Dohuk and Kirkuk. Terrorism was used in the past against the Christians in Mosul, openly and without shame, targeting us. But, it was not in the scale as it is now – not so organized, and from many, many sides.”

Kenna seemed hesitant to verbalize who he thought was responsible, but was emphatic that it was a new phenomenon. “Systematically, from day one, they are making telephone calls, and then knocking on doors, and then more. In the past, terrorism has killed and kidnapped, but not in this very organized way. It seems there is some agenda behind that, whether it’s some terrorism group or some others –
we don’t know who.”

Siad Battush, from the office of the single Yezidi representative in Parliament, was not so reserved. He adds his voice to others like Iraqi List Parliament member, Usama al-Najaifi, who contends that the KRG is responsible for an intimidation campaign against the Christians and other minorities in the north, in an effort to shore up power.

“The Kurdish military groups, all of them, are making things very hard for us. The PDK is trying to make us part of their group, but we resist them. For this, they make things very hard for us when we go through checkpoints, and whenever they see us. 2000 Yezidi students are afraid to go to the University, and they stay home. It is not only us, it is the other groups, too.” Concerning the persecution of Christians in Mosul, he said, “Everybody knows it is the Kurdish military. Even if some soldiers are not Kurdish, their superiors are Kurdish. Everything happens in the parts of Mosul where the Kurdish military is in control. It is not small groups, but soldiers at government checkpoints and in Humvees.”

Two weeks ago on al-Hurra Iraq’s political talk show “In Iraqi”, Kurdish parliament member Abdul Khaliq Zangana got into a heated yelling match with Iraqi human rights worker William Warda, who said that the Kurds were to blame for the Christian’s lack of security in Mosul. Zangana told Iraqslogger “These accusations are not believable. The Kurdish forces protect the Christians and the other groups in Kurdistan.”

It was reported that the results of a government’s investigation on the violence and threats on Mosul’s Christians were to be handed over to Yonadam Kanna and other lawmakers today. None has, of yet, been made available.

“We received not information, but a promise of information,” he said. “It is supposed that they are finished now. They promise they will give us all the files, but so far, the information has not been given. It seems this is the government policy, and the Prime Minister has the right to do this. Maybe you can ask the Prime Minister himself.”

Kurdish Parliament Member Abdul Khaliq Zangana
Photo: Daniel W. Smith
Kurdish Parliament Member Abdul Khaliq Zangana

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