Religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq are facing unprecedented levels of violence, and in some cases risk being eradicated entirely, according to a new report from the London-based Minority Rights Group International. In a major survey of the plight of Iraq’s minorities, the report finds that these groups—some of whom have lived in Iraq for over two millennia—are being targeted by Sunni, Shi’ite and Kurdish militias as the battle for power and territory in Iraq intensifies.
The report, Assimilation, Exodus, Eradication: Iraq’s minority communities since 2003 outlines the precarious position of the country’s minorities—including Chaldean and Assyrian Christians, Bahá’ís, Faili Kurds, Jews, Mandaeans, Shabaks, Turkomans and Yazidis—who make up ten per cent of Iraq’s population. According to MRG director Mark Lattimer, “Every day we hear news about the carnage in Iraq, yet the desperate situation of minority communities is barely reported. Subject to a barrage of attacks, kidnappings and threats from all sides, some communities which have lived in Iraq for two thousand years now face extinction.”
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees says 30 per cent of the 1.8 million Iraqis who have fled to Jordan, Syria and elsewhere come from the country’s minorities. Christians are attacked often because they are believed to be associated with the West, while the Mandaean and Yazidi faiths have been dubbed “impure” by Islamic extremists.
Decries Lattimer: “Despite the fact that many Iraqi Christians fled because they were accused of association with the American or British forces, hardly any Iraqis have been offered refuge in the US or the UK.” MRG is calling on the international community, especially the UK and US, to share the refugee burden and not leave it to fall disproportionately on Iraq’s neighbouring states.
One of the worst affected minorities is the small Palestinian community, many of whom had been in Iraq since 1948. Seen as being under the special protection of Saddam Hussein, they have suffered severely since his fall.
In oil-rich Kirkuk, minorities find themselves under increasing pressure in advance of a referendum on whether Kirkuk should become part of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region. MRG reportS that they are being pressured to support Kurdish political parties or to state their identity as Kurdish, which will strengthen Kurdish claims to land.
Preti Taneja, author of the report, says, “MRG is calling on the international community and the Iraqi government to recognize the special vulnerability of the country’s minorities. This should be the basic starting point, if Iraq’s minority groups are to survive the current onslaught.” (MRG, Feb. 26; The Independent, Feb. 26 via AINA)