George J. Marlin
July 5, 2017
the ousting of ISIS from the Nineveh Plains -- located northeast of
Mosul in Iraq -- its Christian communities, after spending nearly three
years as Internally Displaced People (IDPs) in Kurdistan -- are hopeful
about returning to their ancient homeland. However, the road ahead is
difficult.While the Kurds played host, providing asylum to the
IDPs, the Kurds also hold the key to Christians reclaiming their homes
and property in nearly half of the Nineveh Plains.
Since the rise
of ISIS, there have been consistent expressions of support for Iraq's
embattled Christians at the highest levels of the Kurdistan Regional
Affording protection to the IDPs has played well
in the West and it was based on a reality on the ground: Chaldean
Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, Kurdistan was given land to house the
IDPs, for which the KRG ensured a measure of protection.
Christian source put it, "The Kurds leave us alone." But a history of
persecution at the hands of the Kurds has not receded from Christian
memory. There is not much genuine trust.
There remains, for
instance, the bitter memory among the Nineveh exiles that KRG forces,
the vaunted Peshmerga, abandoned Christian towns to ISIS after
dismantling the Christians' own security infrastructure. And reports of
the looting of Christian properties by Kurdish fighters after the recent
defeat of ISIS have not helped matters.
More worrisome -- despite
protestations to the contrary by Kurdish leaders -- are rumblings that
the Kurds may want to claim possession of some of the land because the
Peshmerga shed blood to help recapture Nineveh.
Finally, there are
reports that returning Christian security officials are being prevented
by the Peshmerga from resuming their duties.
This is the loaded
backdrop for what in other respects is a favorable situation for
Christians eyeing a return to land and property under Kurdish control.
Concerns remain concerning other parts of the Nineveh Plains where the
balance of power has yet to be settled as competing forces are vying for
control and dominance.
The Nineveh Plains town of Teleskuf is a
good example. Close to 650 families have already returned to the largely
Chaldean community. While the KRG does not provide any reconstruction
assistance, it does provide law and order. In contrast, Qaraqosh, in the
Baghdad "zone" of the Nineveh Plains, there is chaos, as Iranian-backed
militia are struggling with Shiite forces as well as government troops
for control of the city.
Ignoring the opposition to such a plan by
Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako and Archbishop Warda, the call by
expatriate activists and local church leaders for the creation of a
Christian militia to protect Christian safe havens, makes little sense,
for such a force would be no match for the bigger players -- Bagdad, the
KRG, Iran, Turkey -- not to mention ISIS remnants roaming the
The best solution for Nineveh's Christians, cooler
heads insist, is for Western governments -- and the U.S. in particular
-- to leverage their power and influence in order to get both Baghdad
and the KRG to integrate Christians into a sovereign state that fully
respects life, property rights and equal citizenship for all regardless
So far, the Europeans have shown little interest
supporting such a plan, but hopes are higher for action by the Trump
But time is not on the side of the Christians.
Ahead of harsh winter weather, Christians must re-occupy the Nineveh
Plains straightaway to plant crops and to rebuild their homes,
businesses, and schools.
The West must act now. For if a
significant number of Christians do not return to Nineveh this summer,
and the power vacuum persists into 2018, the hopes for an enduring
renaissance of Christianity in Iraq may be dashed forever.