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Last Updated: Friday, 13 July 2007, 10:46 GMT 11:46 UK
Crushing Iraq's human mosaic
By Patrick Jackson
BBC News

Iraq's minorities are suffering a persecution at times verging on genocide, a campaigning Iraqi MP has told the BBC News website.

A man rushes a child to hospital after the Amirli bombing
The Shia Turkmen village of Amirli was devastated by a lorry bomb

Caught in a triangle of religious, ethnic and criminal violence, communities which once made up as much as 14% of the country's population get little state protection, said Hunain Qaddo, chairman of the Iraqi Minorities Council, a Baghdad-based non-governmental organisation.

The marketplace bomb attack on a Shia Turkmen village near Kirkuk on 7 July marked a new spiral of horror, according to Dr Qaddo, who believes 210 civilians, mostly women and children, died and about 400 were injured. Police reported 130 deaths at the time.

He says that his own community, the Shabaks of the Nineveh Plains, face oblivion as a people, targeted physically by al-Qaeda militants because they are mainly Shia, and politically by Kurdish separatists with claims on their land.

Dr Qaddo is in London as part of a campaign by the UK-based advocacy group Minority Rights Group International to raise awareness of the crisis gripping Iraq's lesser-known peoples while the big three - the Shia and Sunni Arabs and the Kurds - pursue their own interests.

Iraq's minorities range from large communities like Turkmens and Christians to small groups of Armenians, many of them descended from refugees from the Ottoman Empire nearly a century ago, and Palestinians given sanctuary by Saddam Hussein.

Between Arab and Kurd

The problems of the Shabaks, a community of up to 400,000 with their own language and cultural traditions, are rarely reported by foreign media, in contrast to those of Iraqi Christians, for example.

Selwan, an injured Mandaean refugee boy now in Syria

"They have no communities in Western countries," Dr Qaddo points out.

Some 1,000 Shabak civilians, he says, have been killed in the Mosul area since the 2003 invasion in terrifying attacks, including beheadings, by Sunni Arab militants.

A further 4,000 Shabaks have been driven out of their homes, adds the MP, whose own house was burnt down in the city.

And Shabaks, whom Saddam once attempted to "arabise", are also under pressure from Kurdish political parties seeking to "kurdify" them in a drive to assert wider control over the ethnically divided north.

"They are really facing a genocide," says Dr Qaddo.

It is hard to assess the scale of the problems facing the Shabaks and other ethnic minorities independently during the current conflict in Iraq, Charles Tripp of the London School of Oriental and African Studies points out.

Estimates for population size, he told the BBC News website, are often exaggerated in a country where parliamentary seats, resources and recognition are based on a community's percentage of the population.

Prize targets

Nonetheless, the number of minority group members among the 2m refugees from Iraq is believed to be disproportionately high.

A Chaldo-Assyrian Christian woman whose son was killed by militants in Bashiqa, Nineveh (image: Minority Rights Group International)
This Christian woman from Nineveh lost her son to militants

Mandaeans who fled to Syria told the BBC earlier this year harrowing stories of forced conversion, rape and murder by Islamists.

A Minority Rights Group International report published in February notes that Mandaeans, who follow a religion which pre-dates both Islam and Christianity, are also targeted by criminals because they traditionally work as goldsmiths and jewellers.

They have often been kidnapped for ransom in Baghdad and the south of Iraq, says Hunain Qaddo.

Christians have found themselves in a similar dilemma: targeted by Sunni extremists because of their religion and by kidnappers - who are often Shia Arab militants or rogue members of the security forces - because of their wealth.

The common problem of most of Iraq's minorities, says Dr Qaddo, is that they lack any militias of their own to protect them.

Iraq's loss

Iraqi police are too weak or corrupt to help, he adds, while the US-led coalition, fighting insurgents and seeking good relations with the main communities, offers no special protection for minorities.

Hunain al-Qaddo, chairman of the Iraqi Minorities Council
We are going to lose the value and the culture of these people who have enriched our society through their hard work and their skill
Hunain al-Qaddo
chairman of the Iraqi Minorities Council NGO

The chairman of the Iraqi Minorities Council accepts that minorities always suffer during a civil conflict and he is not advocating safe havens for minorities or calling on other countries to take in more refugees.

Instead, he wants Western states involved in Iraq to do more to help train up the new Iraqi army so that it can restore the rule of law across the country, put pressure on the Kurds to respect minority rights, and back the creation of a defence force recruited from the minorities in the north.

"That would be the best solution for all Iraqis including the refugees, many of whom are willing to return if security is established," he says.

"I feel very sad when I hear that Christians or other minorities are leaving Iraq because we are going to lose the value and the culture of these people who have enriched our society through their hard work and their skill."

Are you a member of one of Iraq's endangered minorities? Were you forced to flee the country? Do you try preserve the unique identity of your people?

Your comments:

I am Shabak and I know very well what is going on in Iraq. I have family and friends in Mosul, Iraq and they give me the latest Info on what is going on in Iraq and what Hunain Al-Qaddo has said is true soo many Shabak have been killed since 2003 and also other Minorities. I thank Hunain Al-Qaddo for what he is doing and we hope he will be able to achieve even more in the future.
Sinan Mahmood, Halle, Germany

All minorities at least were respected in some way or another during Saddam's reign unlike now what democracy has brought to us only kiddnapping, killings, displacement. besides Jews were driven out of Iraq because orginally they do not have a country but they came to iraq to live with us. I wish things before 2003 would be back at least there was Security & No sectarian wrangling
Hayder Aymen, Iraq- Najaf

Iraqi Jews were once a proud minority ethnic group in Iraq, having settled there some 3,500 years ago during Babylonian times. The community numbered some 25% of the total population during 1920s. Many of its members were prominent figures, having built schools, hospitals, community centres and established banking and trade enterprises. But after a pogrom in 1941 and repeated persecution, this once proud community has now dwindled to a few elderly people. History must not be allowed to repeat itself with another minority group.
Ronnie, London, UK

I am not an ethnic Iraqi but as a child growing up in San Diego, California in the 1980's I had many Iraqi immigrant/refugees attending school with me. One young man I remember was Caldean whose family fled 'Arabisation'. This group is missing from your statistics.
Jared Leavitt, St Albans UK

The other day i was listening to... an Iraqi jew, who only performed and spoke in Arabic till his death. he was a proud Iraqi jew and said he was an arab jew and never wanted to go to Israel. He said he was handcuffed and forced to go to Israel, he never liked it and never felt he belonged...
Fatima, Bristol Uk

My family are Jews who were forced to flee, along with hundreds of thousands of other Jews during the late 1940s and early 1950s. Our property was expropriated and we were never compensated. Jews predated Arabs and Islam in the current Iraqi region by millenia. What is happening now is nothing new...

Following statement made by a visiting Iraqi Turkmen MP in Detroit, MI last week sums up the current struggle of minorities in Iraq: "During the Saddam era our mouths were stuffed with cotton so we could not shout. The US military took the cotton out of our mouths but stuffed it back into their own ears so now they do not hear our cries!". For the Iraq mess to stabilize, the Bush administration needs to put pressure on the ethnic powers of each region, like Kurds in the North, to respect democracy and minority rights instead of pursuing their own self interests...
ali, Detroit, MI, USA

As a Sunni Muslim I am deeply dismayed to hear about the persecution of Iraqi minorities by other Sunnis. Islam does not condone this behavior and it should not happen. These minorities are our cousins in faith and should be protected and cherished. Isn't it time for the Muslim nations to put together a multi-national force to replace the Americans and to help restore peace and security in Iraq?
Wael, Panama, Panama

I am speechless. Just send this report to those who opened the "Pandora box" (namely President Bush and Prime Minister Blair). Don't know if they can live with these images, let alone the huge breakdown of people, culture, souls, and the consequences. God help us.
Khaled, Tulsa, OK

I lived in Iran for most of the 1970s and am married to an Assyrian from that country. My greatest concerns are for the Bahai's of Iran and Iraq for their persecution is great, yet they hold the key to resolving the differences among this mosaic of inter-religious strife by a current, direct submission to the overpowering awe of God's glory.
Lawrence Fabian, Boston USA

I'm an Assyrian Christian who left Iraq in 1992 after the Gulf War. Back then the moniorities were at least tolerated by other groups (Sunni and Shia) but now there is complete lawlessness, anyone with a gun can do whatever they want. Christians are being perecuted in large numbers mainly because they are not like Arabs, they don't have a big tribe which will go and seek revenge. I just can't understand why there is such hatred against the minorities. They were/are never a threat to the government, they are just very educated and law abiding people who are now paying the price for living with a bunch of gun carrying, uncivilized and ill-informed individuals who unfortunately are running the country and are even politicans in the failed Iranian backed shia government. Times surely do change!!!!!

I doubt anyone is going to read what i actually have to say because of my e-mail but i may as well say it. I think what Hunain al-Qaddo is saying is true because, if anything, everything any culture has is rooted into our children and they need to be able to be safe so our cultures can live on. If anything i think children should have the right to be able to deport to other countries. Countries also should be able to help those in need and ofcourse there are issues but if enough countries are willing to put in the money and work they can make a future and a dream for these kids because all they see in their world is death and violence and this is what gives arabs a bad reputation when our kids are thrown into war driven areas and they growing up thinking that is all that they are able to be which is unfair for muslims and children and if this world wants to be of any help it should be able to help now, now is the time of action to save what precious things we have left in this world and not trying to save a couple of green pieces of paper lives are what count not money.
Karim Sabry, Egypt, Cairo

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