'Exodus' of Iraq's ancient minorities
- '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
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
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.
2003: a few hundred
Brought to Iraq as slaves by the King Nebuchadnezzar
2,600 years ago, the Jewish community flourished and
once numbered more than 150,000.
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
'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
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
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
Peter Beaumont in Baghdad
Monday February 26, 2007
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
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