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Concept of a ‘protected area’ for Christians in Iraq gains support

World Watch Monitor

A “protected area” should be set aside for minorities, including Christians, in Iraq’s north-east Nineveh plains after the ‘Islamic State’ has been defeated, a US advocacy group has argued.

The group, In Defense of Christians (IDC), made the suggestion at the National Convention in Washington, DC, last week. IDC hopes to enlist the support of the US Congress to the venture, which would also need the consent of local authorities both in Baghdad and in the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan. 

The idea of a “Christian safe zone” was urged in the autumn of 2014 after the jihadists’ offensive which, according to Amnesty International, saw more than 900,000 religious- and ethnic-minority Iraqis, about a quarter of them Christians, fleeing to the Kurdish region and beyond.

In March, US State Secretary John Kerry described minorities, including Christians, Yazidis and Shia Muslims, as targets of “genocide” by IS.

Some US Congress members attending the convention expressed their support for the renewed initiative. On 9th September, Congressman Jeff Fortenberry, a Republican from Nebraska, introduced legislation calling for the US and the international community to support the Iraqi authorities in recognising a province in the Nineveh Plain, “consistent with lawful expressions of self-determination by its indigenous peoples”. Fortenberry’s “sense of Congress resolution”, with 11 co-sponsors, both Republicans and Democrats, was referred to the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The Dohuk-based American University of Kurdistan, meanwhile, has quoted a survey saying 90 per cent of Christian residents in Ankawa – a suburb in Erbil – are in favour of the independence of the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, of which a “minority safe zone” presumably would form part.

Supporters of an autonomous Nineveh argue that, apart from preserving minorities, the resulting stability will be in the US and the West’s interest. They call upon the US to help resettle victims of genocide to their homes.

IDC is hoping for a US Congressional resolution to support the policy within a prism of a post-IS, de-centralised Iraq. IDC co-founder Andrew Doran said his group and others will work together to seek US Congressional action on ending the conflict in neighbouring Syria – where another war is engaged by similar players and where minorities likewise top the list of victims.

Mr Doran pointed out that these wars are breeding terror far beyond the Middle East. “It’s not coming, it’s here. It’s in our churches, it’s in our nightclubs and it’s in our public spaces and it will get much worse before it gets better,” he said. “If we move swiftly to end the conflict in Syria, we can save lives there now and save American lives and other lives elsewhere in the decades to come.” 

Support for Nineveh’s beleaguered Christians was echoed by a voice closer to home. Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphael I said there are “signals” of a “pre-arranged plan to secure the political structure of Iraq”, but that in this plan, he fears the rights of Christians and other minorities are not guaranteed.

Patriarch Raphael called for a referendum to give Christians a choice on whether they want to be governed from Baghdad, to be part of the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, or even place themselves under a “Sunni state”. 

Catholic news agency Fides reported that, according to local sources it consulted, these conflicts over future plans are contributing to delaying military operations – which have previously been announced – for the liberation of Mosul from the control of Islamic State.


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