Christians might not feel safe to return to Iraq at all in the
forseeable future, even after the liberation of Mosul, experts have
The Christian population in the country has plummeted from 1.4 million in 2003 to little more than 200,000.
Many church leaders have been hoping that Christians will return
after Islamic State is driven from the land and strategic cities such as
Mosul are freed.
But the status of Christians, Yazidis and other minorities in a post-ISIS Iraq is becoming increasingly uncertain.
Church leaders' calls for sympathetic administration in traditionally-Christian areas such as Nineveh are not being heeded.
One signal of the atmopshere of worsening religious tolerance is the
decision by the Iraqi Parliament on Saturday. While the eyes of the
world were on the battle for Mosul, the Parliament voted to ban the
import, production and sale of all kinds of alcohol from the entire
Religious minorities such as Christians and Yazidis not only drink
alcohol, but many had their livelihoods in the alcohol trade before the
war. That will not now be possible, meaning there is increasingly little
incentive for them to go back to cities and towns where they have lived
Naomi Kikoler, deputy director of the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide,
who traveled to Iraq last year to document ISIS atrocities against
religious minorities, told Christian Today that the challenge now was to
make sure that liberated towns and cities would be safe for Christians
and other minorities to return.
"It means not only de-mining the towns, but making sure there is
physical protection for Christians and others who want to return to
their homes. It is going to be very challenging. People believe it could
be months before they can safely return," she said.
Most Iraqi Christians had already fled the country, she added. It will take "a lot of persuasion" for them to return.
On the alcohol ban, Kikoler said: "It is a signal of intolerance for
religious minorities. It is really worrying that this has come at a time
when there has been so much attention on the rights of minorities."
The report warns that
without clear planning to provide security and a stable political
environment, further violence and atrocities are likely to recur in the
ISIS continues to perpetrate genocide against the estimated 3,200
Yazidi women and children it kidnapped and who are still being held.
In March 2016, the United States secretary of state determined that
ISIS had perpetrated genocide against minorities, including Yazidis,
Christians, Shia Shabak, Shia Turkmen, Sabaean-Mandaeans and Kaka'i.
Such a finding of genocide was only the second ever by the US government in an ongoing conflict.
"Degrading and defeating IS militarily will remove a formidable
threat to minorities' existence. Yet for these communities, their
vulnerability will persist and possibly increase after the defeat of
IS," the report warns.
It calls for urgent planning for post-liberation Iraq if violence and further atrocities are to be avoided.
"If domestic, regional, and international actors do not take
preventive and protective action to address the unique threats and
conditions in Nineva, religious minorities who seek to return and remain
in Iraq will again be the victims of atrocities," the report warns.
"Many members of religious minorities are fearful that even if IS is
degraded and removed, they will face future extremists attacks. Targeted
for decades because of their religious identity, the most common
concern of those we interviewed was that a new extremist group would
quickly emerge and target them anew."
The report warns that there is little indication that the
international community is taking measurable steps to uphold its
responsibility to protect civilians.
"To recognize that genocide has happened is to acknowledge a
collective failure to prevent the crime of all crimes – one that has
created a reality in which Iraq's religious minorities face a dire
threat to their very existence.
"We must endeavor to ensure that similar failures do not occur in the
future and that those minorities who choose to return to their homes
when they are liberated can live free of fear of again becoming the
victims of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and ethnic
cleansing. This is what the commitment to prevent, enshrined in the
genocide convention, should mean."