(Locals of Alqosh protest removal of town mayor. August 19, 2017)
The Assyrian towns of Alqosh and Tel Keppe located in the Nineveh Plains have been targeted by Masoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) by consecutively replacing their democratically elected mayors with KDP’s own surrogates. This is in effort to force the Nineveh Plains to be incorporated within the Kurdistan region’s borders despite Alqosh and Tel Keppe being part of Nineveh province, and, therefore, under the administration of the federal government of Iraq. The series of mayoral changes has sparked several protests by the locals of Alqosh who reject KDP’s oppressive tactics. Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi must answer the call for help from the citizens of the Nineveh Plains and reassure that the federal government will look after them as Iraqi citizens and not leave them prey to the KDP’s expansionism.
Barzani and the KDP took advantage of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) capitulation in northern Iraq against the terror group, Daesh in 2014. Instead of providing support, the KDP allowed ISF to retreat from their posts only to take over and expand Peshmerga’s presence in areas the KDP considers “disputed territories”. As a result, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has expanded its territory by over 40% by taking advantage of the federal government being in disarray. Not providing support to the ISF in order to land-grab has left citizens in the disputed areas to suffer and die under Daesh brutality. So much could have been avoided had there been support for one another.
The need to settle KRG encroachment in disputed areas is the fact this has been going on for too long. Disputed areas are generally home to many of Iraq’s minorities and these minorities have borne the brunt of neglect from both the federal government and the KRG with regards to services since the fall of the Ba’athist regime in 2003. The security tension between ISF and Peshmerga has left many minorities like Assyrians and Yezidis vulnerable to genocide when Daesh invaded their towns. Now that the war is almost over in Iraq, minorities returning home are finding themselves back in the middle of neglect and tension between the KRG and the federal government of Iraq. Prime Minister Abadi can no longer leave these citizens under Peshmerga control while Barzani gets away with not providing services because they are not under KRG jurisdiction.
The occupation of disputed territories by the KRG is also stripping Iraq’s minorities of their identities. The very same injustice Iraq’s Kurds claim of past Iraqi regimes is now being implemented by Barzani against Assyrians and Yezidis. While the KRG portray themselves as the protectors of minorities with the security reassured by Peshmerga, they undermine the democratic process in Iraq with Barzani’s authoritarianism. Iraq’s minorities should not have to choose security over their democratic rights and identities, these are basic rights that should be provided for by the federal government of Iraq.
Iraq’s minorities deserve the reassurance of security provided by the federal government with mayors elected by locals that have a healthy and responsive relationship with Baghdad. Barzani can erect portraits of himself and raise flags of Kurdistan in disputed areas like the Nineveh Plains but Iraq and the international community must not allow an illegal force spread undemocratic rule further past the Kurdistan region’s borders. Prime Minister Abadi may struggle to have the political power to challenge Barzani over disputed areas but history will judge him and the rest of the political elite in Baghdad over the treatment of Iraq’s minorities. Assyrians, Yezidis and other minorities have already suffered enough and Baghdad cannot afford to witness their extinction in Iraq like the native Jewish community before them. As Iraqi Ambassador in Washington, Dr. Fareed Yasseen recently stated, “Iraq is not Iraq without its minorities”.
Prime Minister Abadi, the Iraqi Parliament and the rest of Iraqi leadership must live up to their responsibility and respond to the people of Alqosh who have come out en masse for a third time now with a large wave of Iraqi flags demanding Alqosh remains an Iraqi town. If Iraqi leadership and locals in disputed areas claim this is Iraq and they are indeed Iraqi, there should be no excuses to not resolve this issue. If nothing is done and Barzani gets away with his authoritarian policies, it would be a green light for Barzani to continue carving up his future state out of the flesh of Iraqi-Assyrians. This would be a shame to Abadi’s government as it would be remembered as the one who lost this fundamental component of Iraq: Assyrians. Iraqi forces gave countless lives for the unity of Iraq and many lost their lives so church bells would ring again, we cannot let their sacrifice go to waste.
Hamzeh Hadad is an Iraqi writer and commentator. He is currently a Master of Arts candidate at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs.