KHALIS AYSHOA is a former Member of the Iraqi Parliament (2010-2014), where he served as head of the Popular Chaldean Syriac Assyrian Council. A Syriac Catholic and native of Qaraqosh, on the Nineveh Plains, he is former chief engineer at the Ministry of Construction and Housing. He spoke with Aid to the Church in Need about the situation of Christians in northern Iraq:
“Iraqi Christians have been subjected to various types of marginalization, persecution, displacement and killing throughout history. Most recently that was the case when ISIS occupied northern Iraq and committed genocide, beginning in 2014. That was the conclusion of research by the Shlomo Organization for Documentation, which I headed, and which documented crimes against the Christian minority. The report was published June 1, 2017.
“The Nineveh Plain is a region of diverse religions and nationalities. After the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 and the rise of radical Islam and the growth of Iran-backed Shiite militias, non-Muslim minorities found themselves in a weak position. Extremist Islam began to focus on these minorities, including Christians and Yazidis, and began a process of marginalization, calling them infidels. Greed for these minorities’ historical lands triggered the process of demographic change, killing, kidnapping and threats.
“Terrorist militias killed more than 1,200 Christians between 2003 and 2014, in addition to targeting more than 147 churches in Iraq. Some of the countries neighboring Iraq support such terrorist acts; then there is the ongoing presence of Iran-backed militias that pose a danger to the future of the minorities, and Christian militias cannot turn the tide.
“The international community, the World Council of Churches, the Vatican, and everyone interested in continued presence of Christians in Iraq must move quickly to ensure that the requirements for their existence and safety are met. Otherwise, a dangerous situation will persist, and Christians may again face martyrdom.
“The most important actions that will encourage Christians to stay here are as follows:
1- Rebuilding the region and providing basic services through the contributions of the international community in coordination with the Iraqi government.
2- Stopping the policy of demographic change in Christian areas, with Muslims pushing out Christians.
3- Changing laws and regulations in force in Iraq that negatively affect the religious freedom and dignity of the Christian people.
4- Pressuring the Iraqi government to reconsider school curricula in Iraq to acknowledge and define the existence of the Iraqi pluriform national religious culture, history and identity.
5- Supporting the creation of small and medium-size enterprises for the purpose of employing inhabitants of the Nineveh Plains.
“Success on these fronts depends on the extent of external cooperation with Iraq and the pressure on the government here, but I hope it will happen. Among world leaders, I have most confidence in President Trump. The US Administration is the one who serves the interests of the Iraqi people because it is a decision-maker. We have tried with the Europeans before; they are sympathetic, but not decisive.
—Ragheb Elias Shaba