by Bill Weinberg, New America Media
Amid daily media body counts and analyses of whether the “surge” is “working,” there is an even more horrific reality in Iraq, almost universally overlooked.
The latest annual report by the London-based Minority Rights Group International, released earlier this year, places Iraq second as the country where minorities are most under threat—after Somalia. Sudan is third. More people may be dying in Darfur than Iraq, but Iraq’s multiple micro-ethnicities—Turcomans, Assyrians, Mandeans, Yazidis—place it at the top of the list.
While the mutual slaughter of Shi’ite and Sunni makes world headlines, Iraq is home to numerous smaller faiths and peoples—now faced with actual extinction. Turcomans are the Turkic people of northern Iraq, caught in the middle of the Arab-Kurdish struggle over Kirkuk and its critical oilfields. Assyrian and Chaldean Christians, now targeted for attack, trace their origins in Mesopotamia to before the arrival of the Arabs in the seventh century. So do the Mandeans, followers of the world’s last surviving indigenous Gnostic faith—now also facing a campaign of threats, violence and kidnapping. The situation has recently escalated to outright massacre.
In late April, a grim story appeared on the wire services about another such small ethnic group in northern Iraq. Twenty-three textile factory workers from the Yazidi community were taken from a mini-bus in Mosul by unknown gunmen, placed against a wall and shot down execution-style. Three who survived were critically injured.
Yazidis, although linguistic Kurds, are followers of a pre-Islamic faith which holds that the Earth is ruled by a fallen angel. For this, they have been assailed by their Muslim neighbors as “Devil-worshippers” and often subject to persecution.
The wire accounts portrayed the attack as retaliation for the stoning death of a Yazidi woman who had eloped with a Muslim man and converted to Islam. After the killings, hundreds of Yazidis took to the streets of Bashika, their principal village in the Mosul area. Shops were shuttered and Muslim residents locked themselves in their homes, fearing reprisals.
Yazidis have often been the target of calumnies, and the stoning story may or may not be true. If it is, it says much about the condition of women in “liberated” Iraq, where “honor killings” witness a huge resurgence. In any case, it says much about the precarious situation of minorities in post-Saddam Iraq.
By eerie coincidence, April 24, the day the story of the massacre appeared on the wire agencies, also marked the 92nd anniversary of the start of the Armenian genocide, commemorated in solemn ceremony by Armenians worldwide. Following the mass arrests of that day in 1915, some 1.5 million met their deaths in massacres and forced deportations at the hands of Ottoman Turkish authorities. The Yazidis, whose territory straddles contemporary Turkey and Iraq, were targeted for extermination in the same campaign.
The Yazidis may be targeted for extermination again. After the Mosul massacre, a statement from the League of Yazidi Intellectuals said that 192 Yazidis have been killed since the US invaded Iraq—not including the most recent 23 victims.
It is telling that the US refuses to officially acknowledge the Armenian genocide, out of a need to appease NATO ally Turkey. More disturbingly, the US is now presiding over the re-emergence of genocide in the same part of the planet.
The US went into Iraq in 2003 to put an end to a regime which had committed genocide against the Kurds in 1988 (when, lest we forget, it was still being supported by Washington). In doing so, the US merely created a new genocidal situation. Even if the aim was to control Iraq’s oil under a stable, compliant regime, the result has been Yazidis massacred, Assyrian churches bombed, the majority of the Mandeans forced into exile in neighboring countries.
The armed insurgency and the forces collaborating with the occupation seem equally bent on exterminating perceived religious and ethnic enemies. In April 2004, the Badr Brigades of Shi’ite militant cleric Moqtada al-Sadr burned down the Roma (“Gypsy”) village of Qawliya, accused of “un-Islamic” behavior—like music and dance. Last year, the usually pacifistic Sufis, followers of Islam’s esoteric tradition, announced formation of a militia to defend against the Shi’ite supremacists in both opposition and collaboration. “We will not wait for the Mahdi Army and the Badr Brigade to enter our houses,” read the statement from the Qadiri Sufis. “We will fight the Americans and the Shi’ites who are against us.” Suicide bombers have also struck Sufi tekiyas (gathering places).
House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio recently stated without irony: “We can walk out of Iraq, just like we did in Lebanon, just like we did in Vietnam, just like we did in Somalia and we will leave chaos in our wake.” He may be right. But the alternative may be staying—presiding over, and fueling chaos. Boehner ignores the inescapable reality that US intervention created the current chaos, now approaching the genocidal threshold. It has only escalated throughout the occupation.
This reality raises tough questions for those calling for military intervention in Darfur: will this end the genocide there—or inflame it? And the US failure to even impose sanctions on Sudan, despite four years of threats, again points to oil and realpolitik as imperial motives, rather than humanitarian concerns. Even the renewed warfare in Somalia, topping the Minority Rights Group list, was sparked by the US-backed Ethiopian intervention late last year.
There are secular progressive forces in Iraq who oppose both the occupation and the ethno-exterminationists in collaboration and insurgency alike. These groups, such as the Iraq Freedom Congress and the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, support a multi-ethnic Iraq, and constitute a civil resistance. Their voices have been lost to the world media amid the spectacular violence.
Such voices may have little chance in the escalating crisis. But looking to the US occupation as the guarantor of stability is at least equally deluded. Above all, Iraq’s minorities will likely be struggling for survival in the immediate future, whether the US stays or goes. We owe them, at least, the solidarity of knowing about them.
Bill Weinberg is editor of the online journal World War 4 Report
This story first appeared May 15 on New America Media
From our weblog:
Report: Iraq minorities face extinction
WW4 REPORT, February 22, 2007
Iraq: Yazidi workers massacred in Mosul
WW4 REPORT, April 24, 2007
Armenians commemorate 1915 genocide —despite Turkish censorship
WW4 REPORT, April 25, 2007
Darfur: Bush announces sanctions —against the resistance movement!
WW4 REPORT, May 29, 2007
Reprinted and translated by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, July 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution