The HSC’s Executive Director, Julie Lenarz, talked to Gedalyah Reback from the English version of Israel’s Arutz 7 about the Kurds and the persecution of the Christian and Yazidi communities by the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq.
Situation of Christians
“Less than 1% of the global Christian population lives in the Middle East and, as a result of discrimination, persecution and war, the proportion of Christians in the region has dropped from around 20% at the start of the 20th century to around 5% today. What we are witnessing now is only the latest phase of something that has been going for many decades.”
“The number of Christians in Iraq has fallen from approximately 1.5 million prior to the US-led intervention in 2003 to 350,000-450,000 (data is unreliable and some estimate as low as 150,000). Many Christians had originally fled to Syria, but the civil war forced them to return to Iraq.”
“However, Christianity will not be eradicated in the Middle East,” says Lenarz. Judging by the moves many of them have made, Christians will remain in the region.
“Kurdistan currently host over 100,000 Christian refugees from other parts of the country and Lebanon has announced it will take in an additional 5000 Christian refugees.”
“The Gulf states, where religious minorities can practice their faith in relative freedom, have seen their Christian population surge from basically nothing a century ago to 10-13 percent and the trend is believed to continue.”
Islamic State and Christians
“In all towns and villages where ISIS rules, the Christian population has disappeared,” says Julie Lenarz, Executive Director of the Human Security Centre.
“Qaraqosh, a historic Assyrian city, was home to the largest Christian population in Iraq with approximately 50,000 members. Now the city is virtually devoid of its Christian population.”
“When ISIS took control of Mosul, roughly 20,000 Christians initially stayed, but after the group issued an ultimatum – convert, flee or die – the remaining Christians had no other choice but to leave as well.”
“As well as attacks on Christians, there have also been attacks on Christian sites of worship, with deep historical value, particularly to the Assyrian community.”
“For the first time in 1600 years, no Christmas and Easter masses were celebrated in Mosul.”
Christian resistance movement
“In the Nineveh Province of northern Iraq – a traditionally Christian part of the country where over 30,000 members of the community were forced to flee from ISIS – a Christian militia has been established which goes by the name of Nineveh Plains Protection Units (NPU).”
“It is approximately 4,000 men strong, is allied to the Iraqi Government and the Kurdish Peshmerga, receives funds from the Assyrian diaspora abroad and training from a private American security company.”
Situation of Kurds
Delivery of weapons
“It has proven difficult for the Kurds to get their hands on modern and advanced weapons because supplier nations made delivery dependent on approval from Baghdad.”
“Whilst the Kurds have access to 2,000 armored vehicles and rocket artillery systems, a significant part of their weapon arsenal is outdated and dates back to the Soviet era.”
“The situation has somewhat changed since the Kurds are fighting on the front line against ISIS,” says Lenarz. “Germany, for instance, has announced it will send advanced weapons to the Kurds worth €13 million. However, the Kurdish leadership complains that delivery is slow. Britain is said to have delivered no more than 40 heavy machine guns to the Peshmerga to this date.”
“Nobody seems to know how big ISIS really is. The US puts the number between 20,000 – 30,000 fighters; the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights at 50,000; the Russians at 70,000; and some Kurdish officials even as high as 200,000.”
“What is clear though is that ISIS has access to a modern arsenal of weapons unmatched in the history of terrorist organizations. ISIS acquired a fleet of US-built Humvees during the assault on Mosul when the Iraqi army fled and abandoned weapons and tanks. In addition, ISIS has about 30 T-55, 15 T-62 and 5 to 10 T-72 tanks, as well as armored vehicles, grenade and rocket launchers, dozens of anti-aircraft guns and missile systems and AK-47s assault rifles.”
Situation of Yazidis
“The UN concluded that the Yazidi community was systematically targeted and crimes committed against them potentially amount to genocide,” Human Security Center (HSC) Executive Director Julie Lenarz told Arutz Sheva.
The HSC director noted that during interviews conducted by the UN “in the aftermath of the assault on the Yazidi community last summer, witnesses spoke of mass killings, over 50 cases of torture, hundreds of bodies scattered alongside the roads, the murder of the disabled by a shot in the head, 200 children who had died of thirst, starvation and heat on Mount Sinjar, women and children who had been buried alive or chosen suicide by throwing themselves off the mountain over being captured by ISIS and thousands of abductions.”
“Air strikes and humanitarian aid were initially successful but by October 2014, ISIS surrounded Mount Sinjar again and more than 10,000 Yazidis were once again trapped. Especially the southern side of the mountain remains unsafe. ISIS has left behind snipers and IEDs (improvised explosive devices – ed.).”
Friction with the Kurds?
“Haider Shasho was apparently arrested for seeking assistance from the Shia’ Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), an Iranian proxy,” Lenarz told Arutz Sheva. “Minority resistance units, such as the HBS, are supposed to be incorporated within the Peshmerga forces.”
“Kurdistan is extremely concerned about Iranian militia forces closing in on the KRG region from the North – in particular Asaib Ahl Haq and the Badr (Brigades) – which answer directly to Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Qods Force (of Iran).”
“This goes to the heart of the power struggle over the future of Iraq post-ISIS,” says Lenarz. “Never before has Iranian influence in Iraq been stronger and the KRG is highly suspicious of a muscular alliance between the Shia government in Baghdad and Iranian militias.”