Organised crime seizing Christian assets in Baghdad, says Iraqi lawmaker
Yonadam Kanna warns that criminals are forging papers to get the courts to allow them to seize assets. The problem goes beyond houses, and touches land and businesses. The Christian lawmaker wants to government and the courts to end the problem and “restore legality”.
Baghdad (AsiaNews) – Yonadam Kanna, leader of the Assyrian Democratic Movement, is a member of the Committee on Labour and Social Affairs in Iraq’s parliaments. He spoke to AsiaNews about a major problem involving Christian properties in Baghdad.
"The real estate mafia has struck again,” the Christian leader said. “These criminals get counterfeit papers and property deeds to claim assets, houses or businesses owned by Christians forced to leave the country in recent years because of wars and violence."
"These are specialised gangs, a mafia that operates in a certain pattern. They get fake papers and go to court to claim an asset that is not theirs. Ant the courts usually give in every time."
In recent weeks, the seizure of Christians goods has become a major issue again, especially in the Iraqi capital where most of the cases have taken place.
Homes, shops, and buildings belong, in most cases, to Christians who left the country after 2003 as a result of the progressive deterioration of the security situation.
Baghdad’s auxiliary bishop, Mgr Shlemon Warduni, had raised the issue more than a year ago. At that time, he had said that criminals were targeting Christian-owned assets whilst the government and the police were weak. He had also said that he did not know anything specific about the militia or gangs involved in the seizures, but warned that it was ongoing and that is was harming to “our faithful”.
In his pastoral letter for Christmas 2015, the Chaldean Patriarch Mar Louis Raphael Sako had also complained about the widespread problem affecting society. At the time, His Beatitude had called on the authorities to protect Christians against "criminal and extremist groups who racketeer and steal from families”.
Now the problem seems to go beyond real estate, involving gardens, land and shops, as well as monasteries and ancient places of worship. Baghdad’s Karrada area and other districts with large numbers of Christians seem to be the focus, especially in the old part of the capital.
Some government sources in Baghdad have identified three types of groups going after Christian assets: the first is local organised crime operating on behalf of the State through real estate groups and forged documents; the second are religious, predominantly Shia militias, and the third involves individuals acting for personal gain.
Yonadam Kanna wants to end this. "I turned to the Supreme Court to stop this problem,” he told AsiaNews. “Rules exist but they are not clear and often remain unimplemented. I also appealed to Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and law enforcement."
"The problem began with the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and involved thousands of seized homes and property,” he explained. “With respect to Christians, we are talking about hundreds of homes and businesses. The local mafia forges papers and takes over assets."
With respect to security, "Incidents and attacks have occurred recently in some Baghdad suburbs,” Kanna said. “However, I can say that in general the situation in the capital, especially in the central area, is not bad." Nevertheless, “the time to restore full legality" has come. (DS)