After the United States has declared that genocide is taking place
against Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq, what is the
next step for genocide victims displaced from their homes?
“Together, we will advocate for the Christian, Yazidi, and other
communities in Northern Iraq that they may return to their homes on the
Nineveh Plain to be secured there by coalition and successive
international forces,” Andrew Doran, senior adviser to the group In
Defense of Christians, stated at the Sept. 7 press conference beginning
the group’s advocacy convention in Washington, D.C.
The Nineveh Plain is a 1,600 square mile area in northern Iraq that
has been home to various ethnic and religious minorities, including
Assyrian Christians who have lived there for centuries as one of the
earliest Christian communities.
When militants of the Islamic State swept across northern Iraq in
2014, they displaced hundreds of thousands of these minorities from
their homes. They killed innocents, raped and enslaved women and young
girls, and destroyed churches and shrines.
In March, the State Department declared that the Islamic State had
committed genocide against Christians, Yazidis, and Shia Muslims, and
had also committed “crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing”
against some “Sunni Muslims, Kurds, and other minorities.”
However, advocates insist that declaring genocide is just the
beginning of putting back together the shattered society of northern
“There has been far too much of a history of sort of declaring
something and then everybody packing up their tents and going home,”
Katrina Lantos Swett, former chair of the U.S. Commission on
International Religious Freedom, stated at the convention press
One of the next steps the U.S. can take now is to help resettle
genocide victims in their homes, should they choose to go back. However,
what should be the best course of action and how soon must this be
The first step would be a safe, secure return for the victims. “The
Christians should return to their homes just as quickly as that region
is secure,” Doran told CNA.
A coalition of forces, including Iraqi security forces, the Kurdish
Peshmerga and local militia, are fighting to eventually retake Mosul,
the second-largest city in Iraq. That fighting will be long and
difficult, Doran acknowledged, but the Nineveh Plain, which lies north
and east of the city, would be the first to be abandoned by Islamic
State before the city would fall.
There will be refugees from the city already looking to relocate to the plain, he noted.
“In the long term there would need to be coalition and other
successive forces to – not substantial numbers, but some numbers – to
patrol and keep safe the region around the Nineveh Plain,” he said. The
area “will be relatively easy to secure.”
However, then the area needs to be made livable. And it is here where
plans need to be laid for the long-term stabilization of the region.
First, the infrastructure would need to be rebuilt since there are
whole villages that are “like ghost towns” and houses that have not been
occupied for two years, Doran explained. Then there would have to be
economic revitalization of the region, with the help of outside
Finally, efforts would have to be made towards “reconciliation” of
the various groups in the region – Christians, Sunnis, Yazidis, and
In Defense of Christians is hoping for a congressional resolution to
support the policy, which would ultimately have to be proposed by the
“We the organizers of this conference are currently advocating for a
new congressional resolution that voices U.S. support for the government
of Iraq as it moves to create this province,” Robert Nicholson,
executive director of the Philos Project, stated at the press
The province would be semi-autonomous and part of a newly-federalized
Iraq, where “power and governance” is relegated to the “lowest level,”
The idea isn’t new, advocates maintain, as the Iraqi government had
planned to create three new provinces in January of 2014, months before
Islamic State took over Mosul and the Nineveh Plain.
“The first community that needs to be helped and empowered” is the
Assyrian Christians, Nicholson said. They would need “administrative
autonomy in their local affairs” and a security force that would be
trained and equipped, along with an “international rapid deployment
force based in the Nineveh Plain” and legal protections for their
culture and language.
They should still have the rights and duties of Iraqi citizens, IDC
said, insisting that the area will not be a “ghetto” for minorities.
However, if they need a safe zone they must be self-sufficient, and the
Nineveh Plain would provide the best opportunity for that.
Would the de-centralization of Iraq lead to further sectarian conflict?
“I think because it wasn’t decentralized, the sectarian conflict is precisely what led to ISIS,” Doran stated.
“In other words, the Sunni populations of Anbar and Nineveh province
who felt alienated by the Tehran-dominated central government, those
conditions led precisely to many people in the population welcoming ISIS
as an alternative to what they regarded to be an oppressive central