The following commentary originally appeared in Musings On Iraq
Al Jazeera video on the recent events surrounding the Christians in Mosul
Iraq’s Christians recently faced two major setbacks. First, when Iraq’s parliament passed the new provincial election law in September 2008, they dropped Article 50 that was to set a quota for minority representation in provincial councils. Second, a wave of attacks on Christians in the northern city of Mosul in Ninewa province has caused thousands to flee the city. Both point to the precarious situation the country’s Christians find themselves in.
After a long delay, Iraq’s Presidential Council ratified the provincial election law on October 8, 2008. The original legislation included Article 50 that would set aside 13 provincial seats for Christians, and two for Yazidis and Shabeks in six provinces. During the debate on the law, two Shiite parties argued over whether the two seats for the Yazidis and Shabeks should be included, saying there was no census data to base the quotas upon. As a result, Article 50 was dropped. A special committee however, was set up to deal with the issue.
Despite the negative feelings the Christians felt after the removal of Article 50, it has received overwhelming support from Iraqi politicians to be re-included. At first, Christians said the article was dropped on purpose to punish them. Thousands came out into the streets in Mosul, Dohuk, but only a few in Baghdad. However, since then, many have voiced support for the article to be re-instated, beginning with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government, the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party, and the United Nations representative to Iraq Staffan Di Mistura.
To add to their problem, the exact same day the election law was ratified, the first reports of attacks on Christians in Mosul appeared. On October 8 and 9, seventy-five families fled the city after attacks had killed five Christians. By October 14, fourteen Christians were dead, while 1,795 families had left the city. According to the Iraqi Ministry of Displacement and Migration most of those have gone to Christian villages and towns north of Mosul. In response, Maliki sent two National Police Brigades to the city, along with two investigative teams in an attempt to restore security.
To add to the confusion, no one seems to know who is responsible for the attacks, and why they are happening, although rumors are rampant. Some have blamed insurgents, but five insurgents groups in the city have denied any responsibility. That could leave Al Qaeda in Iraq or other Islamists who have attacked Christians before. Others have pointed fingers at the Kurds. Some have said they were attacked because they have demanded an autonomous region, others have pointed to the fact that the incidents came just after Christians protested Article 50 in large numbers in the north. The various theories point to the chaotic situation the city finds itself in as everyone seems like a suspect.
This has not been the first time Christians have been attacked or forced to flee in Iraq either, although some believe this is the worst case. Before the invasion, for example, there were up to 1 million Christians in Iraq. Since the invasion, almost half of them have left the country. The Ministry of Human Rights has documented 172 Christian deaths from 2003 to 2007. Churches have been bombed over the last five years, and many have fled Baghdad for the north where there are large Christian communities.
Iraq’s Christians have been one of the most vulnerable groups in the country since the U.S. invasion. The recent attacks on them couldn’t have come at a worst time as they were already feeling rejected by parliament due to Article 50 being dropped from the provincial election law. Since so many Iraqis have voiced support for it however, it is likely that it will be re-instated. The attacks in Mosul, however, may taper off, but they have served their purpose. They have instilled fear in the Christian community and driven many out. It’s unknown when or if they will return, as Mosul remains one of the most violent cities in the country.
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