Thursday, 06 November 2008, 12:03 GMT
KRG will continue to protect Christians

Nechirvan Barzani, Prime Minister of the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government. GLOBE PHOTO


Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani speaks about attacks on the Iraqi Christian community

"...I hope one day all the people of Iraq will feel that their rights and freedoms are protected as they are in the Kurdistan Region." -Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani Despite significant gains in the security field, Iraq remains a dangerous place. While religious and ethnic tensions have lessened in key areas, the recent brutal attacks against Christians in Mosul remind us that violence and repression are not far from the surface. What is the background of the current situation of Christians in Iraq and the position of the Kurdistan Regional Government?

Prime Minister Barzani: There is an unfortunate history of attacks against Christians in Iraq by terrorist groups since the liberation of Iraq in 2003. For example, in August 2004, churches in Baghdad and later in Basra, Mosul, and Kirkuk were targeted by terrorists. Christians were assassinated, abducted, and pressured to convert or pay ransom.

Such things continued until nearly 50,000 Christian families had no option but to flee. Of these, 20,000 families fled to the Kurdistan Region and settled in the Duhok and Erbil governorates. Other families settled in the towns around the Nineveh Plain, and the remainder left Iraq for Syria and Jordan.

The Kurdistan Regional Government has provided as much assistance as possible to these Christian families. This assistance has included employing them within the Kurdistan Regional Government, reconstructing approximately 100 villages, and helping around 10,000 families with monthly stipends. The KRG has been helping Christian families with assistance through churches and cultural and community centers.

When the exodus of Christians became known, the KRG allocated 250,000 ID to each family to help them until the federal government in Baghdad can find a permanent solution. Other KRG institutions, like the Parliament and the governorates of Duhok, Erbil, and Sulaimaniya, have also offered financial and material aid to those in need, through churches and civil society organizations.

The KRG Council of Ministers convened to condemn attacks against the Christians. Even before this, many KRG cabinet members, parliamentarians, and governors visited locations where the displaced Christian families have fled. How strong has been the support of the KRG for the Christians?

Prime Minister Barzani: The Kurdistan Region has offered full support at a time when it has been chiefly the federal government's responsibility to do so. We have done this in the past and we will continue to do so in the future. No one else in Iraq has offered this level of assistance to Iraq's Christians, who were amongst the very first to have lived in this land.

The KRG has taken these actions based on feelings of brotherhood and out of responsibility as a constitutionally recognized federal region of Iraq. We consider it a political and moral obligation to assist these displaced families and to work with the federal government to end terrorism against the Christian community. What is the current situation in Mosul, and what has been the recent role and response of the KRG?

Prime Minister Barzani: The terrorists who have been behind the targeting and displacement of Christians throughout Iraq have continued and extended their campaign of terror in Mosul. The Christians who have fled Mosul are not from only one or two districts in Mosul city; they are also from 52 separate districts in the surrounding area. There have been many victims in Mosul. Thousands of Kurds were killed there because of their ethnicity, and thousands of families have been displaced as a result.

The city of Mosul has today become a safe haven for many terrorist organizations and some lingering members of the former Ba'ath Regime. The so-called "Islamist State," for example, has become an umbrella association under which all these terrorists operate. It is true that most of the members are Arabs, but the groups consist of Turkomans and Kurds too.

Additionally there are even Christians who are former members of the Ba'ath Party, now calling themselves the Resistance, who actively fight against the current governments and Coalition Forces. The terrorists have recruited support from a mix of ethnic and religious groups in an effort to sow doubt, fear, and tension among the people of Mosul. This is a classic terrorist tactic. Has the KRG's position and response been fully understood?

Prime Minister Barzani: There is much misunderstanding of what has happened recently in Mosul, including the role of the KRG. When Christians have fled Mosul city because of threat of violence, only the KRG has offered support.

The federal government in Baghdad has done little to nothing for these displaced people, beyond spreading rumors and visiting some locations in the Nineveh Plain where some Christians have taken refuge. We have always maintained that these displaced persons have the right to return to their homes, and this should be our long-term goal. Is there a connection between the terrorist actions against Christians and terrorism/agitation against Iraq's Kurds?

Prime Minister Barzani: This is an important question that has not been properly addressed in many reports and analyses of the current situation. We in the Kurdistan Region, especially in Erbil city, have been the target of several terrorist acts including the February 1, 2004, twin attacks that took 98 lives, including government and party officials and civilians, while injuring countless more. The bombing was carried out by Arabs, but we know they were assisted in the planning by Kurds in Mosul associated with the group Ansar al-Sunna. Many people know that even today a small number of Kurds who worked with the Ba'ath Regime are still active and helping the terrorists.

With so many areas affected, this issue must be analyzed in order to determine who could benefit from the Christians being targeted. In terms of Kurdish national interests, the presence of the Yazidi and Shabak Kurds and Christians within Mosul city is important for the population proportion equations of the coming provincial elections. In this case, could it possibly be logical for the Kurds to try to decrease the number of Christians in the city and give the Arab population the majority?

Those who accused the Kurds of driving the Christians and others out of Mosul are the same people who earlier accused the Kurds of expansionist policy in Mosul and other areas. Now the accusers have completely changed their assertions, saying that the Kurds are driving the Christians and Yazidi and Shabak Kurds out.

The Kurds would politically lose most from these incidents, since the Arab proportion of the population would rise. Those wishing to lay the blame for these incidents on our doorstep are enemies of democracy, enemies of a federal Iraq. They wish to make blatantly false claims in order to undermine the basic rights of freedom, democracy, and fair representation. What is your view on the Christian community?

Prime Minister Barzani: I consider the Christian community to be a peaceful and a professional one. The Christians are not a threat to anyone, and we do not see them as a threat. We are proud of the culture of tolerance that has been promulgated in the Kurdistan Region. Our ability to live in peaceful coexistence with an ethnically and religiously diverse constituency is a great strength.

I would ask the following: If it is the Kurds who are driving these unfortunate victims out of Mosul, why would the displaced Christians seek sanctuary and safety inside the Kurdistan Region? If these outrageous allegations were true, would anyone expect the Christians to flee into the arms of the very people who are allegedly persecuting them?

The reality is that the KRG is the only government organization in Iraq currently doing anything meaningful to help these threatened people. Despite our efforts, we still find ourselves the victims of a political campaign. We will stand up to the absurd, shadowy allegations that we are somehow behind the violence against our Christian brothers.

The Kurdistan Region is home to a large and peaceful Christian community. Our Christian brothers are welcome here; they participate in our government, our society, and our economy. They are as much a part of Kurdish history as the many other ethnic and religious groups that live here in peace and harmony. They enrich our lives, our society, and our culture. We have done a great deal for the Christian minority in our Region, and we have done this out of moral conviction. We see this as our duty as government authorities.

We have committed ourselves to the creation of a federal, democratic, pluralistic Iraq. This means that we are all responsible for respecting the rights of ethnic minorities throughout the nation. In our Region, the reality on the ground demonstrates our respect for diversity and our commitment to human rights. The KRG warmly welcomes and strongly encourages everyone to come to the Region and see this for themselves. And I hope one day all the people of Iraq will feel that their rights and freedoms are protected as they are in the Kurdistan Region.