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Jihadists in Iraq Erase Cultural Heritage

By , July 28, 2014 1:22 am

[unable to retrieve full-text content]BAGHDAD — A campaign by Sunni insurgents to establish an Islamic caliphate across Iraq and Syria and expel other Muslim sects and religions is taking a sharp toll on the countries’ cultural heritage.
Assyrian International News Agency

Congressman Slams Obama For Ignoring Christian Genocide In Iraq

By , July 27, 2014 7:40 pm

Virginia Republican congressman Frank Wolf accused the Obama administration of ignoring the genocide of Iraqi Christians Thursday, saying that “Christianity as we know it in Iraq is being wiped out.”

“I believe what is happening to the Christian community in Iraq is genocide,” he said in a speech to the House of Representatives. “I also believe it is a crime against humanity. Where is the West? Where is the Obama Administration? Where is the Congress? The silence is deafening.”

This is the second time this week Rep. Wolf has brought the issue to the floor. On Tuesday, he reminded the president that members of Congress sent a bipartisan letter in June urging him “to actively engage with the Iraqi central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government to prioritize additional security support for especially vulnerable populations, notably Iraq’s ancient Christian community,” a call he has still not heeded.

The Obama administration “needs to have the same courage as President Bush and former Secretary of State Colin Powell when they said genocide was taking place in Darfur,” he concluded. “The time to act is now.”

According to a letter he received from someone on the ground in Iraq, “All Mosul churches and monasteries are seized by ISIS. There are around 30. The cross has been removed from all of them. Many of them are burned, destroyed and looted. Many others are being used as ISIS centers. The religious Sunni, Shiite and Christian tombs are destroyed in Mosul. This destruction is endangering very ancient sites, such as prophet Jonah’s tomb, which was broken last week, according to many reporters.”

Rep. Wolf, in addition to calling on the administration to speak out about the crimes against humanity being perpetrated against the Iraqi Christians, wants Obama to ensure relief funds are going to trusted humanitarian agencies and encourage the Kurdish government in its efforts to protect minorities.

Over three years ago, he introduced a bill to create a special envoy for Near East Religious minorities, which passed with bipartisan support, but which has been languishing in the Senate ever since. According to one House staffer, the administration could break through the deadlock and appoint one themselves immediately without Congressional mandate, but has neglected to do so.

The Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, a position created by 1998′s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, has been vacant since October of 2013, which Rep. Wolf has repeatedly shamed the administration about.

“As you know, during the Reagan years and during the Jimmy Carter years, they advocated, they spoke out,” he said back in March. “And when you talk to religious leaders in these countries [in the Middle East], they do not understand why America is not speaking out for them now.”

Assyrian International News Agency

Could Law 21 Save Iraq?

By , July 27, 2014 1:48 pm

Could Law 21 Save Iraq?

This article was originally published by Niqash. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Giving Provinces More Power: Could Law 21 Save Iraq?

How can a country like Iraq – with its different sects, religions and ethnicities – be governed appropriately? Some are now suggesting that giving all of Iraq’s provinces the powers they were granted by a law amended mid-2013 could be a way out of the current crisis. Local authorities would govern themselves better than Baghdad and Iraq would remain united.

As Iraqi politicians have been trying to form a new government, more than one analyst has said that the country’s current crisis is due to the policies established by the most recent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and his desire to monopolize and centralize power. Various solutions have been suggested regarding the problem.

These have included introducing amendments to the Iraqi Constitution, creating new laws to reign in the Prime Minister’s powers or just simply removing al-Maliki from the job – which may well happen anyway as some of the Shiite Muslim Prime Minister’s most important allies seem to have deserted him.

However there is one other potential solution to at least some of Iraq’s current woes – and that is to properly enact, and then commit to, Law 21, which was amended by the Iraqi Parliament in the middle of 2013.

There are at least 18 Iraqi cities regularly complaining about the monopolization of power by Baghdad. They say the government interferes in provincial affairs far too much, that it makes decisions that actually go against the Iraqi constitution and that it prevents local officials from making good decisions and local appointments.

“Iraq is a country with many ethnicities, sects and religions,” explains local political analyst Saeed Radi. “It’s very difficult for any one party to manage all affairs. A Shiite Muslim-dominated government would be hard pressed to know what Iraq’s Sunni Muslims and Kurds want and need.”

Iraq Business News

‘The Situation is Dire for All Groups’ Patriarch Sako Says About Iraq

By , July 27, 2014 2:33 am

‘The Situation is Dire for All Groups’ Patriarch Sako Says About Iraq

Posted 2014-07-26 23:29 GMT

Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako.Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako says the situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate quickly. He said the country has suffered tremendously at the hands of the ISIS militant group, also known as Islamic State–extremist Muslim rebels, who one month ago declared a caliphate on the border with Syria and Iraq.

With ISIS pledging to expand its control over the region, there is very little relief from the attacks in sight.

In an interview with Vatican Radio, Patriarch Sako explained the situation in Iraq is dire not only for Christians, but for all ethnic groups, including for Muslims. A mosque was recently destroyed in Nineveh. The danger, he said, extends to the whole world.

The ISIS militia has a very strong ideology, which makes negotiations difficult.

Patriarch Sako is not optimistic about the upcoming elections for the prime minister. “The walls between the factions are too high,” he said

Patriarch Sako also questions the source of funding for these extremists. “From where are they getting their funds? Who is funding them?” he demanded.

In the meantime, the United Nations has announced it may add ISIS militants to their list of war criminals.

Patriarch Sako added that Friday’s phone call from Pope Francis offered encouragement to the suffering Christian community in Iraq.

Assyrian International News Agency

Iraq Selects Kurd for President

By , July 26, 2014 3:09 pm

BAGHDAD — Trying to piece together a new government to confront a Sunni militant offensive and growing internal strains, Iraqi leaders on Thursday selected a well-regarded Kurdish politician to be the country’s new president.

The parliament voted to approve Fouad Massoum, 76, a Kurdish politician and former guerrilla fighter against Saddam Hussein’s regime, as the country’s new president.

He replaces Jalal Talabani, a Kurd who had been president since 2005 and was seen as a rare unifying figure among Iraq’s many factions but has been largely absent from the political scene since suffering a stroke in late 2012.

Although the post is largely ceremonial, Iraqi officials said the choice was a vital step to try to ease the growing distrust between the country’s northern Kurdish population and the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad and present a more united front against the militants of the Islamic State.

Yet even as the government is trying to rally, the Sunni militants are consolidating their grip over a broadening swath of the map.

Along with the nuts and bolts of traditional governance, like paving neglected roads, the Islamic State is also employing violence and intimidation in the quest to create a hard-line Islamist caliphate.

On Thursday, militants destroyed a shrine in Mosul that was said to be the tomb of the prophet Jonah, and there have been increasing reports of public executions. Reports also surfaced of an edict ordering women and girls to undergo genital mutilation in Islamic State-held territory, though some Mosul residents said they had seen no evidence it was being enforced, and some militant-affiliated social media accounts denied it.

The starkly divergent scenes — of a political class in the capital struggling to make the country whole, and militants taking every measure to carve it up — presented a picture of a country in chaos just as President Barack Obama is set to weigh recommendations by the Pentagon for possible military action, which could include airstrikes, either by drones or warplanes.

Six weeks after the Islamic State seized Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, there is a growing sense that much of the country, even if it doesn’t break in to three nations — a Kurdish state in the north, a largely Shiite area in the central and south and a Sunni state in the West — is likely to remain beyond the control of a Baghdad government for some time.

Iraq’s leader, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, has been pressing for increased military aid, from the United States and elsewhere.

Assyrian International News Agency

Britain Has Forgotten Its Debt to the Christians of Iraq

By , July 26, 2014 3:45 am

“Nineveh city was a city of sin. The jazzin’ and a-jivin’ made a terrible din.” So starts Michael Hurd’s Jonah-Man Jazz, the Sixties incarnation of a long artistic tradition of celebrating the biblical Nineveh as a city of loose living. Sure, God sends the lugubrious Jonah to threaten the city with destruction if it doesn’t repent, but writers always prefer to focus on the fun than the moralising. Even the most apocalyptic of morality plays on the subject, Thomas Lodge and Robert Greene’s 1594 A Looking Glass for London and England, dwells with prurient fascination on the bed-swapping in Nineveh’s royal palace (incest! silken veils!) before the authors rather hastily remember they’re supposed to be warning sinful 16th-century London of what happens to corrupt cities.

But for the few Christians left in Nineveh Province today, it is the scriptural tradition of shriving and atonement that lingers in the mind, not the thought of parties. Three weeks before Ash Wednesday, Assyrian Christians observe the Fast of Nineveh, performing again the great penance of the biblical Ninevites. Their ancestors repented of hedonism, and God saved them: now, modern Ninevites do they same, and God has preserved them — until now. As Tim Stanley wrote on these pages last week, for the first time in 1,600 years, mass is not being said in Mosul, the modern capital of Nineveh Province. Christian women are raped in front of their husbands and fathers, holy sites desecrated, and the population offered a simple choice: convert, pay insupportable taxes, or die. In a grim echo of Europe’s Kristallnacht, the Arabic letter nun, for Nasrani (Christian), is daubed on the outside of Christian houses. As Dr Dwayne Menezes of the Humanitarian Intervention Centre tells me, “If anyone is seeking to understand what ethnic cleansing is, they will find in Mosul the archetypal case study”.

And to Assyrian Christians, it’s not only God who seems to have betrayed his covenant. The British government has a direct historical responsibility to the Assyrian Christians of Iraq. The use of local minorities as proxies for the British Empire is now well understood: few of us know, however, that in Iraq, Assyrian Christians were used at Britain’s peacekeeping force throughout the British mandate. The Iraq Levies, the first military unit created by the British in Iraq, were almost entirely manned by Assyrian Christians from its inception in 1920. The Islamists of Isis aren’t so forgetful — much of the violence against Christians in Iraq is shrugged off as just punishment for their collaboration with the British. In fact, revenge attacks against Assyrian Christians go long back — in 1933, the Iraqi army, boosted by Arab and Kurdish militants, celebrated the British withdrawal by massacring 3,000 Assyrians at Simele. Britain had long abandoned its promise of leaving a secure, autonomous Assyrian region behind them.

For politically active Assyrians, the answer is a home state, or semi-autonomous region within Iraq. For Mardean Isaac, who is, with the writer Nuri Kino, one of the organisers of a new campaign to defend Assyrian Christians, “we want to be understood as what we are: a people. We aren’t just a scattered collection of individuals across Middle Eastern states who happened to believe in Christianity.” One option, then, is international support for local attempts to re-establish security in an autonomous Nineveh Province. Given the stampede of Isis, and the anti-interventionist mood in the West, that seems unlikely. But if the West is serious about defending Christians, it needs to put pressure on the Kurds. As the Kurds look to build a new nation state, it will need the continued support of the West. So we must demand commitments by the Kurds that they will respect the autonomy of Assyrian communities within its borders. Securing local asylum matters: many of those fleeing the Simile massacre had been denied asylum by French Syria — we cannot allow the same cycle to occur again.

Of the 8,000 Assyrians living in Britain today, those over 50 were almost all born on RAF Habbaniya, the British military base, to parents serving the British. They are, like the Gurkhas, our people. They shouldn’t need Joanna Lumley to start waving a sword before we remember them.

Assyrian International News Agency

Russia to Expand Military Cooperation with Iraq

By , July 25, 2014 9:54 pm

Russia to Expand Military Cooperation with Iraq

Itar-Tass reports that Russia’s Defense Minister, Sergei Shoigu (pictured), intends to expand military-technical cooperation with Iraq.

The Minister is quoted as saying:

Military-technical cooperation between our countries develops successfully. The intergovernmental agreement proves its efficiency.

“We’re meeting with the Iraqi officials when the country faces difficulties.

“We support your efforts in fighting terrorism.

“We seek to relations with Iraq. This is our strategic priority.”

Iraqi Defense Minister Saadun Al-Dulaimi said:

It is not a secret that now Iraq is facing difficulties. We’re fighting terrorism.

“Counter-terrorism is the priority of the world community. When we fight terrorism on our territory, we feel like we protect the world community.

“Now the Iraqi army needs weapons for continuing the fight.”

(Source: ITAR-TASS)

Iraq Business News

Purge of Minorities Re-draws Iraq Map

By , July 24, 2014 11:16 pm

Smoke rises from a Shiite mosque after it was destroyed in a bomb attack by militants of the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the city of Mosul, July 23, 2014 (photo: REUTERS/STRINGER).(Reuters) — A new map is being drawn across the plains of northern Iraq as Sunni militants of the Islamic State purge the rural landscape of religious and ethnic minorities that have co-existed for hundreds of years.

More than half a million people have been displaced across Iraq since June, when the north’s biggest city, Mosul, fell to Sunni insurgents who have have harried Shi’ite Turkmen and Shabaks, Yezidis and Christians.

Even before the fall of Mosul, Yezidis, who follow an ancient monotheistic religion with elements of nature worship and are branded devil worshippers by the hardline Islamists, hardly dared set foot in the city, which has been a nerve centre for the Sunni insurgency since 2003.

Now the Islamic State’s cleansing campaign has rid farmland and villages in the surrounding Nineveh province and beyond of longtime minority inhabitants, leaving the country’s north segregated along clear sectarian and ethnic lines.

Much of the north is now divided between the Islamic State and the Kurds, who have expanded their autonomous region by as much as 40 percent as the central government’s presence has crumbled.

Minorities are being forced to choose which part of Iraq they belong to, hastening the country’s de-facto partition and transforming its demography, perhaps irreversibly.

For many Shi’ites – the majority in Iraq overall but outnumbered by Sunnis in the north – the obvious refuge is south, where their sect predominates.

“We want to get out of Kurdistan and Sunnistan, and go to Shi’istan,” said a man from the city of Tal Afar, 70 kilometres (44 miles) west of Mosul, which was overrun by insurgents last month, driving out Shi’ite Turkmen like him en masse.

At a camp in the disused hangar of a construction company on the outskirts of Arbil, thousands of Turkmen, who have close cultural and linguistic links to Turkey, wait their turn to be bused to the airport and flown down to Baghdad and the Shi’ite cities of Najaf and Kerbala.

The flights have been chartered by Iraq’s Shi’ite-led government because most of the roads leading south from Kurdistan run through territory controlled by Sunni insurgents who have proclaimed a caliphate straddling the border with Syria.

As many as 15,000 Shi’ite Turkmen have been transported south by air or escorted in convoy across the only strip of border the Kurds still share with federal government forces – just 15 kilometres along a 1,000-km frontier.

At the Arbil airport, Shi’ite Turkmen – carrying the few belongings they managed to snatch up as they fled – wait to board a plane.

One 35-year-old said most of his community would never come back here: “The north will be emptied of Shi’ites, the south will be emptied of Sunnis, (and) it will lead to the partition of Iraq. This is the new map of the Middle East.”

ETHNIC FAULTLINE

The map is being traced through villages such as Omarkan, until recently home to both Sunnis and Shi’ites from the country’s small Shabak minority, a group that dwells in a triangle bounded by the Tigris and Greater Zab rivers to the east of Mosul.

Besides Mosul, around 20 towns and villages populated by minorities in Nineveh have been seized by militants, as well as one in Kirkuk province and several more around the town of Tuz Khurmato.

When Mosul fell on June 10, Iraqi soldiers withdrew from the area around Omarkan and Sunni insurgents took over.

Initially, the militants reassured Omarkan’s Shi’ite residents they meant no harm, but one dawn early this month they awoke to find the village surrounded and sectarian slurs daubed on their walls.

Young Shi’ite men were rounded up and taken away. Sunnis were allowed to stay, whilst Shi’ite women, children and men who managed to escape fled to territory held by Kurdish “peshmerga” forces, which have advanced deeper into Nineveh.

Bulldozers are now carving new positions into the earth, digging a trench through fields of wheat that gives physical form to Iraq’s deepest ethnic faultline, between Kurds and Arabs.

Omarkan is one of 11 Shabak villages on the Arab side of the line, which are all under insurgent control. Leaders of the Shabak community, who mostly follow a form of Shia Islam, though some are Sunni, have asked the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to kick the Islamic State out and annex them.

The Kurds are planning to formalise the new facts on the ground in a referendum that will determine whether these territories join their region or remain part of Arab Iraq.

Until now, loyalties in the area have been mixed. Some of the Shabak receive salaries from Baghdad, others from the KRG. In elections, their votes are split between Shi’ite Arab and Kurdish parties, with which they have close historic ties.

“We are with the Iraqi army, but at the same time we are with the Kurds,” said a man from Omarkan, 11 members of whose extended family were among those kidnapped. “We want them to unite so they can repel those criminals.”

But for the time being, even Shabak and other minority voices that once opposed Kurdish expansionism now consider that infinitely preferable to the alternative – rule by the Islamic State.

When militants threatened to invade two villages in Nineveh earlier this month, Shabak residents, both Sunni and Shi’ite, took up arms alongside the peshmerga to defend them.

A headmaster who fled the village of Shamsiyat, just south of Mosul, after his brother and four other Shi’ite Turkmen were shot dead by insurgents in an orchard, said he would rather stay in Kurdistan than go south, despite his religion.

“It’s true I’m Shi’ite, but my faith is between me and God, and on the ground, it’s the Kurds who protect us,” he said, a poster of Shi’ite Imam Ali on the wall of the house where he is staying in a sun-baked village southeast of Mosul.

“The (Kurdistan) region has proved it is present. The central government is not present.”

CONVERT OR DIE

The future of Mosul’s ancient Christian community is also bleak after the Islamic State set a deadline for them to convert, leave the city, or be put to death.

All but those who were too ill to get out have headed for Kurdistan or to Christian enclaves protected by peshmerga in the Nineveh plains, following a pattern set over the past decade. Many with the means have already emigrated in recent years.

“I no longer dream of returning to Mosul,” said 39-year-old maths teacher Sarab Hazim al-Sabbagh, who fled to the Kurdish-controlled town of Bashiqa just before the Islamic State’s ultimatum expired over the weekend.

“If I get the chance, I will go back and sell my belongings so I can leave Iraq and go abroad, be it to Somalia, Sudan – anywhere is better than here.”

The area’s minorities are now faced with impossible choices. Sitting on a thin mattress inside a tent at a refugee camp on the road from Mosul to Arbil, Munta Kheder Qasem, a Shi’ite Shabak, relives the hunt for her 18-year-old son, who went missing in the village of Gogjali several weeks ago.

Qasem tells how she pleaded for information with a bearded man who was introduced as “the commander of the faithful” in a former government office appropriated by the Islamic State in Mosul. The bureaucrat wrote down her son’s name, Mahmoud, in a notepad and said he would be home within three days.

Seventy-two hours later, a relative discovered Mahmoud, mutilated beyond recognition, in the local graveyard.

Once Qasem had buried her child, identifiable only from the colour of his trousers, she fled in terror and is now staying in the north, but hopes to go south.

“Our destiny is unknown,” said one of her relatives, who declined to be named. “We are people without a destiny”.

Editing by Ned Parker and Will Waterman.

Assyrian International News Agency

Isis ‘Ordering Female Genital Mutilation’ in Iraq: UN

By , July 24, 2014 5:33 pm

(BBC) — A top UN official in Iraq has said the Sunni Islamist group Isis controlling the city of Mosul is seeking to impose female genital mutilation.

All females aged 11 and 46 in the northern city must undergo the procedure, according to an Isis edict, UN official Jacqueline Badcock said.

She said the unprecedented decree was of grave concern.

Some bloggers suggest that the edict, or fatwa, may be a fabrication aimed at discrediting Isis.

Iraq is facing a radical Isis-led insurgency, with Mosul and other cities in the north-west under militant control.

The ritual cutting of girls’ genitals is practised by some African, Middle Eastern and Asian communities in the belief it prepares them for adulthood or marriage.

FGM poses many health risks to women, including severe bleeding, problems urinating, infections, infertility and increased risk of newborn deaths in childbirth.

The UN General Assembly approved a resolution in December 2012 calling for all member states to ban the practice.

‘Four million’ The Isis edict could affect nearly four million women and girls in and around the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, the UN warns.

Ms Badcock, the UN’s resident and humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, said the practice “is something very new for Iraq… and does need to be addressed”.

She was talking to reporters via video link from the Kurdish provincial capital of Irbil.

“This is not the will of Iraqi people, or the women of Iraq in these vulnerable areas covered by the terrorists,” she added.

But some observers have cast doubt on the alleged FGM edict. Jenan Moussa, a correspondent for Dubai-based broadcaster Al AAan TV, said in a tweet that her contacts in Mosul had not heard of it.

Isis militants seized Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, in June, and have since taken over areas of the north-west and closed in on cities near Baghdad.

The order came as Isis asserts its power in northern Iraq and expands in Syria, imposing radical Islamic practices, says BBC Arab affairs editor Lina Sinjab.

Isis forced Christians in Mosul out of the city earlier this week and daubed their houses with the Arabic letter N to mark them out as Christians, apparently confiscating their properties, our correspondent adds.

Ms Badcock said only 20 families from the ancient Christian minority now remain in Mosul, which Isis has taken as the capital of its Islamic state.

Thousands have fled into Kurdish-controlled territory in the north.

Some of the Christians who remained have converted to Islam, while others have opted to stay and pay the “jiyza”, the tax imposed by Isis on non-Muslims, the UN official added.

Isis announced last month that it was creating an Islamic caliphate covering the land it holds in Iraq and Syria.

Female genital mutilation

  • Includes “the partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons”
  • Practised in 29 countries in Africa and some countries in Asia and the Middle East
  • An estimated three million girls and women worldwide are at risk each year
  • About 125 million victims estimated to be living with the consequences
  • It is commonly carried out on young girls, often between infancy and the age of 15
  • Often motivated by beliefs about what is considered proper sexual behaviour, to prepare a girl or woman for adulthood and marriage and to ensure “pure femininity”

Source: World Health Organization

Assyrian International News Agency

Koreans may Build Airfield in Iraq

By , July 24, 2014 5:24 pm

Koreans may Build Airfield in Iraq

By John Lee.

The President of Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) has said that Iraq has proposed building a new airfield in the southern part of the country.

Iraqi authorities suggested the need for a military airbase for the new jets, and although no deal has been signed, KAI expressed a desire to pursue talks on this matter,” Ha Sung-yong (pictured) said.

He added that the new airfield would be used as a base for the 24 FA-50 light attack fighters that it has agreed to sell Iraq last December in a deal worth US$ 1.1 billion (1.3 trillion Iraqi dinars).

The aircraft have already been paid for and will be delivered from 2015 through 2016.

The KAI’s chief said that more detailed negotiations on the airfield will take place in August.

According to a report from Yonhap, the KAI would likely go into Iraq in cooperation with a builder to construct the airfield, which may be worth $ 600-700 million.

Building the airfield is not hard, although setting up related facilities and systems to control aircraft requires know-how that KAI can share,” the CEO said.

(Source: Yonhap)

Iraq Business News