In its latest report titled ‘On Vulnerable Ground’, the human rights organisation says that Christians, Yazidis, Shabak and Turkmen have been caught up in the fight between Arabs and Kurds over the control of the territory and resources of Nineveh Province, whose capital is Mosul.
The study is particularly critical of the policies and strategies of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which is trying to extend its control over disputed areas, from Sinjar (north-western Iraq) to Mandali (Diyala Province), including Kirkuk.
HRW denounced the ongoing efforts by the Kurdish government in Erbil to kurdisise minorities in its territory to ensure their electoral and political support.
At the same time, Kurdish forces have been silencing dissenting voices, often relying on “intimidation, threats, arbitrary arrests, and detentions to coerce” against those who challenge KRG control. As the largest minority (400,000), Christians are the first victims of such policies.
Sources told AsiaNews backed the claim, saying that in the villages of the Nineveh Plains (a historically Christian area), the Kurdish government would like to set up a virtual Christian ghetto, on the grounds that it would provide greater security.
Yet, “Kurdish persecution of Christians is a reality no one can deny,” a young Christian father who left Baghdad for the north. “More and more evidence suggests that the abduction and killing of our priests opposed to the Nineveh Plains plan and the pressures driving Mosul Christians to emigrate are the work of Kurds,” he added.
However, the crux of the matter remains Kirkuk. An alliance with Christians would give Kurds the means to economically and strategically control the area, which contains Iraq’s richest oil field.
The status of the city has not yet been decided. The referendum that was supposed to settle the matter has been put off for years because of the dangerous tensions it might unleash.
Last year, Ankawa.com, an online publication, reported that the Department of Christian Affairs in the Kurdish Ministry of Finances, which is headed by a controversial figure, Sarkis Aghajan, collected signatures in favour of the annexation of the Nineveh Plains to Kurdistan before handing out monthly aid to internally displaced people. Those who did not sign were denied food rations.
Leaders in the local Chaldean Church, especially the Chaldean archbishop of Kirkuk, Mgr Louis Sako, have slammed the Kurdisation of Christians, and asked for the protection of the central government and US troops. However, many Christians who moved to the north for security reasons now complain about the “silence” of religious authorities towards the Kurdish government’s persecutory policies.
Some are even saying that a number of priests are “openly backing Kurdish plans and the election campaign of the PDK (Kurdistan Democratic Party), President Barzani’s own party.”