War on Iraq

Who Is Driving Christians Out of Iraq?

Although Christians are not the only minority being persecuted, their fleeing comes at a crucial moment.
The current plight of Christians in the northern city of Mosul is a reminder of how precarious conditions in Iraq as whole are.

At least 2,500 families have been forced to leave the city, a dozen killed and many of their houses destroyed.

Christians are not the only minority under persecution but their fleeing is being highlighted because it comes at a crucial moment for Iraq and particularly its northern region.

And therefore many have began raising questions on who would benefit from forcing thousands of families out in the open from a city which has traditionally been known for its tolerance and a mosaic of cultures, religions, sects and ethnicities.

Neither the government nor the Christians themselves have clearly specified who could be behind the current wave of persecution.

Iraq's al-Qaeda group has denied responsibility. So have all the other groups fighting U.S. occupation.

The Kurds, who keep a sizeable force of their militias known as Peshmerga in the city, have even mocked at reports implicating them in the persecution. And of course the government says it is doing its best to preserve peace and punish the perpetrators.

This newspaper blames no one but it sees that most media reports have overlooked the reality of the current situation in the Province of Nineveh of which Mosul is the capital.

Sunni Arabs are predominant in the province but they are mainly concentrated on the right bank of the Tigris River. The left bank along with a string of villages and small towns to the east, north and west of the city is a mix of peoples among them Yazidis, Shebeks, Turkmen as well as Christians.

With the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, Kurdish militias occupied Yazidi, Christian and Shebek areas and moved their control as far as the left bank of Mosul.

Kurdish leaders do not hide their claims to these areas and their insistence that their inhabitants are ethnic Kurds. Kurdish leaders' tactics have turned many Christians, Yazidis, Shebeks and Tukmen against them. As for the Sunni Arabs, many of them draw parallels between Kurdish occupation of these areas and U.S. occupation of Iraq and that both must be resisted.

Calls on Kurdish militias to withdraw have fallen on deaf ears. On the contrary, they have solidified their armed presence in the Province.

Kurdish leaders are notorious for their political favoritism and tactics. In 1996, Massoud Barazani, sent a personal letter to Saddam Hussein pleading with him to send troops to fight his opponent Jalal Talabani whose militias had then spread their control over most of northern Iraq. Anyone found writing to Saddam in such beseeching and friendly terms would have certainly been covered by the government's infamous policy of debaathification.

Talabani did the same a few years later when he felt that his militia stronghold of Sulaimaniya was in danger of being overrun by the al-Qaeda-sponsored Ansar al-Islam, which had established a foot in his areas. Saddam sent advisers, money and weapons and some say even troops to help him contain the threat.

If Christians, Shebeks and Yazids vote for Kurds in the forthcoming provincial elections, the Kurds will have the upper hand in Nineveh. This might be some form of a conspiracy scenario but such scenarios are not impossible in a failed country like Iraq.

Some say Christians are partly to blame for their plight. First, they have divided themselves into 'ethnic groups' relying on their denominations. The so-called Assyrians, who say they are the descendants of the Assyrian Empire, are openly calling for an autonomous region, separate from the Kurdish and Arab areas. The so-called Chaldeans, who say they are the descendants of the ancient Chaldean Empire, have mostly aligned themselves with the Kurds at the expense of their traditional neutrality.

Christian numbers have dwindled in Iraq. Nonetheless, some of their spiritual leaders openly associate themselves with the 'Christian' West and particularly the Roman Catholic Church. The leaders of Iraqi Catholics, who are the majority, were too timid to issue a statement rejecting Pope Benedict XVI negative remarks on Islam in his 12 September 2006 lecture in Germany.

The leader of the Iraqi Catholics was promoted to a Cardinal, raising Muslim suspicions of some form of complicity.

And finally, one can mention the nature of U.S. invasion of Iraq and President George W. Bush's fundamentalist Christian base in America.

U.S. missionaries came to Iraq with the invasion, rousing Muslim fears that the troops were sent not to 'liberate' but 'proselytize'. Some of these missionaries were brutally murdered.

And instead of proselytizing, these fundamentalist evangelicals began persuading Iraqi Christians to convert. Iraqi evangelical church established roots in Baghdad and other areas among Iraqi Christians, which made many Muslims view them as collaborators of a foreign invader.

The U.S. invasion and its repercussions have dealt the heaviest blow to Christianity in Iraq in its long history which scholars trace to the 1st century A.D.