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'Exodus' of Iraq's ancient minorities

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  • Zafar Khan
    Exodus of Iraq s ancient minorities By Patrick Cockburn Published: 26 February 2007 http://news.independent.co.uk/world/middle_east/article2305541.ece Iraq s
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 27, 2007
      'Exodus' of Iraq's ancient minorities
      By Patrick Cockburn
      Published: 26 February 2007


      Iraq's minorities, some of the oldest communities in
      the world, are being driven from the country by a wave
      of violence against them because they are identified
      with the occupation and easy targets for kidnappers
      and death squads. A "huge exodus" is now taking place,
      according to a report by Minority Rights Group

      The UN High Commissioner for Refugees says 30 per cent
      of the 1.8 million Iraqis who have fled to Jordan,
      Syria and elsewhere come from the minorities.

      The Christians, who have lived in Iraq for 2,000
      years, survived the Muslim invasion in the 7th century
      and the Mongol onslaught in the 13th but are now being
      eradicated as their churches are bombed and members of
      their faith hunted down and killed along with other
      minority faiths.

      The report, Assimilation, Exodus, Eradication: Iraq's
      minority communities since 2003, written by Preti
      Taneja, says that half of the minority communities in
      Iraq, once 10 per cent of the total population, have
      fled. They include Mandaeans, whose main prophet is
      John the Baptist and Yazidis whose religion is an
      offshoot of Zoroastrianism and may be 4,000 years old.
      Other minorities who were persecuted under Saddam
      Hussein are under attack again. The so-called Faili,
      or Shia Kurds, who were stripped of their belongings
      under the old regime and expelled to Iran are now
      being forced to run again - forced out of Shia areas
      such as Sadr City because they are Kurds and Sunni
      cities such as Baquba, because they are Shia.

      The small Jewish community, whose members arrived in
      chains as slaves, has been all but destroyed by
      persecution and the pervasive suspicion that Jews have
      collaborated with the US-led invaders.

      Christians were tolerated in Iraq under Saddam Hussein
      whose policies were generally secular, though they
      became more Islamic in his latter years.

      "Because America and Britain are Christian countries,
      the [fundamentalists] blame us for the war," said
      Roger William, who father-in-law owned a casino and
      dance hall in Baghdad before 2003, according to the
      report. "We are terrified. We don't know what the
      future will hold."

      Christians are frequent targets of kidnappers because
      they are thought to be rich and to have no militia or
      tribe to protect them. Mandaeans are traditionally
      jewellers and goldsmiths and this again makes them
      attractive targets for abduction. They say that 504
      members of their community were killed in six months,
      of whom 90 per cent were goldsmiths.

      "For Mandaeans, the biggest threat is extinction,"
      said Bashar al-Sabti, a spokesman for the Iraqi
      Minorities Council. "The killing is equal to three
      deaths for every one person left alive." Not everybody
      runs. Mr Sabti, speaking after his jewellery shop in
      the centre of Baghdad, had been bombed, said: "The
      body of Iraq is filled with pain and wounds. But we
      must not grieve this body before it is dead."

      One of the worst affected minorities is the small,
      35,000-strong Palestinian community, many of whom had
      been in Iraq since 1948. Seen as being under the
      special protection of Saddam Hussein, they have
      suffered severely since his fall. Umm Mohammed, a
      56-year-old grandmother, said the militias "are
      monsters, they killed my two sons in front of my house
      and later shouted that we Palestinians are like pigs."

      A suicide car bomb exploded yesterday near the College
      of Administration and Economics killing 40 and
      injuring more than 30, mostly students. The college is
      part of Mustansariyah University, which Sunni
      insurgents denounce as controlled by the Shia Mehdi

      The groups most at risk


      Before 2003: 30,000

      Now: fewer than 13,000

      The Mandaeans, one of the world's oldest Gnostic
      religions, are concentrated in Baghdad and in the
      Nineveh plains.

      * YAZIDI

      Before 2003: not known

      Now: about 550,000

      Largest group of Yazidi, also known as the "Cult of
      Angels", lives near Mosul, practising a monotheistic
      religion that includes elements of Judaism,
      Christianity and Islam.

      * JEWS

      2003: a few hundred

      Now: 15

      Brought to Iraq as slaves by the King Nebuchadnezzar
      2,600 years ago, the Jewish community flourished and
      once numbered more than 150,000.


      2003: 35,000

      Now: 15,000

      Arrived in Iraq as refugees since 1948. Resentment
      about their perceived special treatment is thought to
      be behind the violent attacks they now face.


      2003: 800,000 claimed

      Now: as low as 200,000

      The descendants of the Turkish-speaking tribes have
      long been involved in a battle against the Kurds for
      the city of Kirkuk. Since 2003, more than 1,350 have
      been killed.

      'These cultures will become extinct': Layla Alroomi,
      65, consultant paediatrician, London

      People have always called us "dirty" or
      "unbelievers".Things have got much much worse since

      I visited a slum in Damascus, Syria, where most of the
      Mandaean community who left Iraq now live. I met a boy
      of 10. His name was Selwan and when he was eight he
      was kidnapped. Half of his face was burnt away.

      I also met a beautiful Mandaean woman of 33. Last year
      she was in a car with her husband when armed
      extremists took the woman out, put her in their car.
      Four of them raped her. She had been pregnant but that
      night she lost her baby.

      The Mandaeans by their religion are pacifist. They
      don't carry guns. Now most Mandaeans who have left
      Iraq live in the slum I visited in Damascus.If the
      international community does not do something to help,
      I think these ancient cultures will become extinct.

      Shiite militia chief assails Baghdad security plan as
      'bombs continue'
      By Brian Murphy, Associated Press Writer
      Published: 26 February 2007


      A powerful Shiite militia leader bitterly complained
      that "car bombs continue to explode" despite an
      ongoing security crackdown in Baghdad - which was hit
      hard again by attacks including a suicide bombing that
      killed at least 41 people outside a business college.

      The statement issued Sunday in the name of radical
      cleric Muqtada al-Sadr could signal serious strains in
      a major U.S.-Iraqi security sweeps aimed at restoring
      order in the capital.

      Al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia pulled its fighters off
      the streets under intense government pressure to let
      the 12-day-old security plan move forward. But a
      relentless wave of Sunni attacks - six alone in the
      Baghdad area Sunday - has apparently tested al-Sadr's
      patience as well as many ordinary Shiites.

      A return to the streets by the Mahdi Army forces could
      effectively kill the security effort and raise the
      chances of Baghdad falling into sectarian street
      battles - the apparent aim of Sunni extremists seeking
      any way to destroy the U.S.-backed government.

      "Here we are, watching car bombs continue to explode
      to harvest thousands of innocent lives from our
      beloved people in the middle of a security plan
      controlled by an occupier," said a statement read by
      an al-Sadr aide in Baghdad.

      Al-Sadr - who hasn't been seen publicly in more than a
      month - is no friend of Washington and his forces
      fought fierce battles with U.S. troops in 2004. But
      he's allowed the Iraqi political process to move
      forward to avoid strains with Prime Minister Nouri
      al-Maliki and the Shiite leadership.

      The statement, however, was highly critical of the
      U.S. role in the security plan and urged leaders to
      "make your own Iraqi (security) plans." He said "no
      security plan will work" with direct U.S. involvement.

      The statement - read to hundreds of cheering
      supporters - was the first public word from the
      al-Sadr since U.S. assertions earlier this month that
      he fled to neighboring Iran to avoid arrest. Al-Sadr's
      aides and other loyalists have insisted that he had
      never left Iraq.

      The political situation in Iraq was further thrown
      into question after President Jalal Talabani, a
      73-year-old Kurd, was taken to Jordan for medical
      tests after feeling ill, his office said. It added
      there was "no cause for worry," but gave no other

      Shiite anger at Washington is running high since U.S.
      soldiers on Friday detained the son of the most
      powerful Shiite political leader for nearly 12 hours
      after he crossed from Iran. U.S. officials claim
      Shiite groups, including the Mahdi Army, receive
      weapons and aid from Iran. Tehran denies the charges.

      "To my Shiite and Sunni brothers, I say, 'Let us scorn
      sectarianism and hoist the banner of unity,"' said the
      statement. But al-Sadr's militia are blamed for
      frequent execution-style slayings of Sunni rivals.

      Since the security crackdown began, the number of
      bodies thought to be of victims of Shiite deaths
      squads has gone down dramatically in Baghdad.

      But there's been no respite from violence blamed on
      Sunni insurgents. Beside the college blast, at least
      18 people were killed - mostly in Shiite districts -
      in bombings and rocket attacks in the Baghdad area.

      Security guards at the business school annex to
      Mustansiriyah University tussled with the suicide
      bomber before he triggered a ball bearing-filled
      charge, witnesses said. Most of the victims were
      students, including at least 46 injured, said police

      The main campus at Mustansiriyah, about 2 kilometers
      (1 1/2 miles) away, was the target of twin car bombs
      and a suicide blast last month that killed 70 people.

      The students at the business college were returning to
      midterm exams after the Iraqi weekend.

      A 22-year-old student, Muhanad Nasir, said he saw a
      commotion at the gate. "Then there was an explosion. I
      did not feel anything for 15 minutes and when I
      returned to consciousness, I found myself in the
      hospital," said Nasir, who suffered wounds to his head
      and chest.

      The blast flung blood-soaked notebooks and backpacks
      among the lifeless bodies and wounded. Cement walls
      were pockmarked by the hail of ball bearings. Parents
      rushed to the site and some collapsed in tears after
      learning their children were killed or injured.

      Students used rags and towels to try to mop up the

      The school is located in a mostly Shiite district of
      northeast Baghdad, but does not limit its enrollment
      to that group.

      In the northern city of Mosul, U.S. troops killed two
      gunmen in a raid and captured a suspected local leader
      of the insurgent group al-Qaida in Iraq, the military
      said. Additional details were no immediately

      Iraq's interior ministry, meanwhile, raised the toll
      from a suicide truck bombing in the violence-wracked
      Anbar province on Saturday to 52 dead and 74 injured.

      The attack on worshippers leaving a mosque in
      Habbaniyah, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) west of
      Baghdad, was believed linked to escalating internal
      Sunni battles between insurgents and those who oppose

      A statement from the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay
      Khalilzad, expressed "outrage" at the attack.

      "This cowardly act of violence underscores that the
      terrorists are the enemies of all Iraqis, regardless
      of sect," he said. "They want Iraq to fail. Now is the
      time for the Iraqis to come together against these

      Radical Shia cleric withdraws backing for Iraq
      security drive
      Peter Beaumont in Baghdad
      Monday February 26, 2007
      The Guardian


      America's security surge in Baghdad was dealt a double
      blow yesterday when the radical Shia cleric Moqtada
      al-Sadr abruptly withdrew support for the crackdown,
      and a female suicide bomber killed at least 40 people
      at a Baghdad college.
      There were concerns meanwhile about the health of the
      Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani, who was flown to
      Jordan for medical tests after falling ill. Officials
      denied he had had a heart attack, saying he was
      exhausted and low blood pressure had briefly left him

      The flurry of developments amounted to another bad day
      for the authorities in Baghdad, who had claimed that
      the capital was being brought under control as a
      result of the new joint US-Iraq security plan. The
      prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, said on Saturday he
      was optimistic about the new security arrangements.

      But yesterday a female bomber detonated the explosives
      in her vest after pushing her way past guards in the
      reception area of a largely Shia college that is part
      of Mustansiriya University. A 22-year-old student,
      Muhanid Nasir, said he saw a commotion at the gate.
      "Then there was an explosion. I did not feel anything
      for 15 minutes; when I returned to consciousness, I
      found myself in hospital." He suffered wounds to his
      head and chest.

      Mr Sadr, who until now had supported the US-led
      security plan, last night said it was not working.
      "There is no benefit in this plan because it is
      controlled by the occupiers," an aide to the cleric
      said in a statement. American forces were "watching
      car bombs explode, taking the souls of thousands of
      innocent Iraqi people".

      A volley of other bombings and rocket attacks also
      peppered Baghdad yesterday, belying claims of improved
      security. There was also concern that violence was
      radiating outwards from the capital. Senior Iraqi and
      US officers confirmed to the Guardian that Sunni
      fighters fleeing the operations in Baghdad were
      relocating in the area of the provincial capital,
      Baquba, 30 miles north of Baghdad. The city straddles
      supply lines for both Sunni and Shia fighters into
      Sadr City and Sunni areas of Baghdad. The rise in
      violence is forcing the US to deploy extra troops
      around Baquba.

      Diyala province has become so volatile that the
      Pentagon has indicated that it may delay plans to turn
      over control of the area to the Iraqi military by the
      end of the year. Direct attacks on US soldiers are up
      by 70% in Diyala since last summer and fierce battles
      have raged since the Baghdad security plan was
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