Bleak Future for Nineweh Minorities

A number of communities say they face constant threats and political marginalisation.

Bleak Future for Nineweh Minorities

A number of communities say they face constant threats and political marginalisation.

The blood of Nasir Abdullah Khalil, 55, seeped into a pool of milk as it drained from his body. The walls of his dairy shop in Mosul's al-Darkazliyyah neighbourhood were spattered with blood, and yoghurt and milk had leaked all over the floor.

According to the police report filed on his case, Khalil was shot dead on January 13, 2007, because he was from one of Iraq's smallest minority groups: the Shabaks.

"It is not only the Christians that are targeted; the Shabaks are as well," said Hamid Abdullah, who works in another al-Darkazliyyah dairy. "Hardly a week passes without a Shabak or two or even three being killed."

Most of the country's ethnic and religious groups - including Sunni Arabs, Kurds, Yezidis, Turkomans, Assyrians, Shabaks, and Shia Arabs - are represented in the volatile Nineweh province of north-west Iraq, one of the most violent in the country.

Once a Baathist stronghold and now a centre for extremist organisations such as al-Qaeda, Nineweh has experienced widespread sectarian bloodletting since 2003, with ethnic and religious minorities frequently targeted.

IWPR has investigated the security and political problems facing three of Nineweh's minority groups - the Shabaks, Yezidis and Kurds.

The origin of the Shabaks is unclear, but they are one of Iraq's smallest minority groups. Hunain al-Qaddo, who served as a Shabak representative in the Iraqi Transitional National Assembly in 2005, claims there are around 400,000 of them in Nineweh.

Shabaks do not consider themselves Arab or Kurd, and their language - Shabaki - is a mixture of Kurdish, Arabic, Farsi and Turkish. Seventy per cent are Shia and the rest Sunni, according to al-Qaddo, although many researchers say that Shabaks have a unique religion that's largely based on Islam.

Despite strained relations between Shabaks and the Kurdistan Democratic Party, KDP, in eastern Nineweh, near the border with Iraqi Kurdistan, the deteriorating security situation in Mosul has prompted some local Shabaks to call for the Kurdish Regional Government to administer areas where they live.

"We asked the Kurdistan region to annex our areas and villages to protect us," said Mahmood Kadhim, a Shabak civil servant. "Officials in Mosul don't value human lives and Shabaks are deliberately killed."

Annexation is not supported by all Shabaks, however. The KDP has been accused of trying to co-opt the community and other groups since 2003 in order to gain political power in Nineweh.

Tensions between the KDP and the minority in the east of the region reached a pitch in 2005, when the party's security forces opened fire on demonstrators calling for separate political representation for Shabaks, injuring several of them.

Moreover, Assyrian media reported that the KDP disenfranchised Shabaks, Assyrians, Turkoman and Yezidis during the 2005 elections by not providing enough ballot boxes in their areas.

Kamal Khidir, 23, quit his studies at Mosul University and moved back to his home in Sinjar, after Islamic groups began circulating death threats against his religious sect, the Yezidis.

"I don't want to lose my life at Mosul University, which is considered a den for the most dangerous Islamic groups," he said.

Muslim extremists have acquired considerable power at Mosul University. Islamic courses are held so frequently that the university seems more like a mosque than an institute of learning.

The authorities have quietly sat by as minorities, including Yezidis, have been threatened at the campus.

Wathiq Muhammed Abdul-Qadir al-Hemdani, the Nineweh provincial police chief, said he was aware of the situation but would not interfere.

"I have solid information on the terrorist organisations inside the university," he said. "However, I respect the university campus and therefore, I cannot arrest them."

"I quit," said Atto Saed, 45, a former lecturer at Mosul University and a Yezidi. "I'm going to get out of Iraq and go to any country where Yezidis are not killed. Here in Mosul, Yezidi blood is cheap and no one defends their rights."

The Nineweh police authorities have records of a number of killings of Yezidis by extremist groups.

The Yezidis are ethnic Kurds who practice a unique religion that incorporates elements of ancient faiths such as Zoroastrianism, as well as drawing on Islam and Christianity. Dismissed by some as "devil-worshippers", the community has coped with such misperceptions by keeping themselves to themselves, while seeking not to antagonise other communities. Nonetheless, they were persecuted under Saddam and are now targeted by Islamic groups.

Yezidi-Sunni tensions rose earlier this year when a 17-year-old Yezidi girl was stoned to death by members of her own community after she reportedly converted to Islam and planned to marry a Muslim.

Twenty-three Yezidi workers were later killed in Mosul, with the extremist group calling itself the "Islamic State of Iraq" claiming responsibility for the killings.

Kurdish-Yezidi relations have also been strained. Many Kurdish leaders regard Yezidis as Kurds and want to corral them into Kurdish political parties. Although they fought alongside Kurdish forces, many Yezidis insist that they have a unique identity and want separate representation.

"Despite substantial Yezidi sacrifices in the Kurdistan liberation movement, which were no less significant than those of their Kurdish brothers, the [Kurdish] parties play with the Yezidis and their fate," said Karam Zedo, a 40-year-old Yezidi teacher.

"Unfortunately, when many of the [Kurdish] parties and even political [leaders] do something for the Yezidis, they consider it a favour - not a patriotic duty for their fellow citizens who suffered much injustice and persecution."

Tensions between Kurds and Yezidis erupted in April when hundreds of Yezidi rioters attacked the KDP offices in the towns of Khana Sor and Jazira, west of Mosul, pulling down and burning the Kurdish flag.

Khairiyyah Saed, 51, wasn't intended to be the target. Extremists had planned to kill her husband, according to senior Mosul police officer Mahmood al-Jubouri.

"The insurgents knocked at her door, thinking that her husband would come out as he usually did," said Jubouri. "But he unexpectedly went out earlier that day, so his wife was shot instead."

Jubouri insists that her husband was targeted because he was a Kurd.

As KDP power has grown in Nineweh since 2003, Kurdish citizens and officials have been threatened and systematically targeted for assassination. Leaflets demanding that Kurds leave have also been distributed in Kurdish neighbourhoods, such as Adan, Bakir, al-Zahra and al-Jazair.

The New York Times recently reported that about 70,000 Kurds have been driven out of the province, although a US military official said it was difficult to determine whether they were Kurds or from other ethnicities.

Many Kurds from Nineweh have fled to Iraqi Kurdistan.

Much hostility has been directed at local Kurds because Nineweh's provincial council is Kurdish-dominated, in part because Sunni Arab politicians and voters have largely boycotted elections. The International Crisis Group warned in 2005 that "the formation of a Kurdish-dominated provincial council in Nineweh would entail minority rule and likely give rise to sectarian fighting".

Arabs resent the KDP flexing its political muscle in the region and claim Kurdish officials are buying land with the aim of turning Mosul into a Kurdish city.

"They consider Mosul their city, and we are guests in it," said Amir, a local Arab resident. "It's time that the leaflets [threatening Kurds] were stopped."

Nineweh deputy governor Khasraw Goran, a Kurd, said the leaflets were a larger part of a campaign to drive Kurds out of Mosul. "These tactics do not scare us," he said.

IWPR reporter Sahar al-Haideri was murdered in Mosul in June 2007.
Iraqi Kurdistan, Iraq
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