• First published in 2004 as Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion (BNOR).

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Human Rights Reports Raise Concerns over Iraqi Kurdistan

The IPS highlights a human rights report concerning Kurdistan (link added):

A United Nations report on Iraq’s human rights situation has provoked mixed reactions in the northern Kurdistan region. Officials accuse the UN of “exaggeration and inaccuracy” while human rights activists say the “actual extent of violations has been understated by the UN.

The report by the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) covering the first three months of this year has a substantial section on human rights in the Kurdish- controlled north…

The situation in Kurdistan also looks worrying in the new Annual Report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom:

Government complicity in religiously-motivated discrimination is also reported in the pro-Western Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). According to the State Department, Christians and other minorities “living in areas north of Mosul asserted that the KRG confiscated their property … without compensation and …Assyrian Christians also alleged that the Kurdish Democratic Party-dominated judiciary routinely discriminates against non-Muslims.” ChaldoAssyrian Christians have also alleged that KRG officials affiliated with the Kurdistan Democratic Party deny Christians key social benefits, including employment and housing.

Additional reports also alleged that foreign reconstruction assistance for ChaldoAssyrian communities was being controlled by the KRG without input from that community’s legitimate leaders. KRG officials were also reported to have used public works projects to divert water and other vital resources from ChaldoAssyrian to Kurdish communities. These deprivations reportedly threatened the safety of ChaldoAssyrians leading to mass exodus, which was later followed by the seizure and conversion of abandoned ChaldoAssyrian property by the local Kurdish population. Turkmen groups in the region surrounding Tel Afer also report similar abuses by Kurdish officials, suggesting a pattern of pervasive discrimination, harassment, and marginalization. Combined with non-state sources of instability, including violence from foreign jihadis and Sunni insurgents, the KRG’s practices add to the continuing flight of Iraq Christians and other ethnic and religious minorities to sanctuaries outside the country

…Between the Sunni-dominated insurgency and the KRG’s reported diversion of critical services and reconstruction assistance, the current confluence of events has forced tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians to flee during the last three years.34 According to some reports, nearly 50 percent of Iraq’s indigenous Christian population is now living outside the country.

These two reports come just a few days after the Washington Post profiled the nascent “Kurdish Lobby” in the US:

With Sunni and Shiite Arabs locked in a bloody sectarian war, Iraq’s Kurds are promoting their interests through an influence-buying campaign in the United States that includes airing nationwide television advertisements, hiring powerful Washington lobbyists and playing parts of the U.S. government against each other. A former car mechanic who happens to be the son of Iraq’s president is at the center of Kurdish efforts to cultivate support for their semi-independent enclave, but the cast of Kurdish proponents also includes evangelical Christians, Israeli operatives and Republican political consultants.

…Kurds want the sort of “strategic and institutional relationship” that Israel and Taiwan have with the United States, [Qubad] Talabani, [Kurdistan Regional Government’s representative in Washington and son of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani,] 29, said. “It doesn’t matter which party is in power in Washington — the U.S. government isn’t going to abandon either of those countries,” he added. “We are seeking the same protection.”

The Post also introduces us to Bill Garaway, an evangelical minister who had produced PR commercials for the Kurds:

…Garaway, a rangy 62-year-old with receding silver hair, became enamored with the Kurds more than a decade ago, after concluding that many key events described in the Bible occurred in Kurdistan, including the stories of Noah’s ark and Queen Esther. He believes not only that the Kurds are descendants of the ancient Medes people, but also that the three wise men who the Bible says visited baby Jesus in Bethlehem came from Kurdistan.

A year ago, I noted a Washington Times interview with Georges Sada, the evangelical Iraqi general who received considerable media interest with his claims about Saddam Hussein’s WMDs. Sada painted a very positive picture of the KRG-controlled area, which I had some cause to question at the time. Last month, I blogged the visit of Christian Zionist leader Mike Evans to the KRG area, after which he called for the US to give the Iraqi Kurds “the tools…to fight the war”, and for the “liberal media” to be restricted in Iraq. Shortly afterwards, Iraqi feminist Houzan Mahmoud warned of a plan to include sharia law in the Kurdish constitution.