Christians in a recently repopulated Iraqi town have protested against a second Kurdish-appointed mayor amid fears of a Kurdish drive to usurp control of northern Christian-majority towns.
Lara Yousif, a Chaldean Catholic and a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), was appointed mayor of Alqosh by the pro-Kurdish Nineveh Province Council on 27 July. She has previously unsuccessfully run for a Christian seat in the parliament of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
According to the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA), Alqosh residents viewed Ms Yousif’s acceptance of the position as a betrayal, and vowed to continue to oppose her and the Kurds.
They had already protested against the installation of Adel Amin Omar, a Kurd, arguing that his Christian predecessor, Fayez Abed Jawahreh, was legally elected and should be re-installed. Having survived IS, Iraqi Christians fear the KRG is trying to gain permanent control of Iraqi towns they liberated.
According to AINA, the decision to remove Mr Jawahreh was extra-constitutional and made by one man, Bashar Al Kekee, the Kurdish head of the Nineveh Province Council, without consulting the rest of the council.
The tug-of-war over the political leadership of Alqosh comes two months before the date set by KRG President Massoud Barzani for a referendum on Kurdish independence, which the Iraqi government has rejected as “unconstitutional”. According to Catholic news agency Fides, members of the KRG are trying to co-opt Christians to back the referendum, but many Christians would prefer the leadership of a strong central government in Baghdad to Kurdish rule.
Alqosh was left semi-deserted after the arrival of Islamic State in 2014, as locals, including Mr Jawahreh, aided by Assyrian militias and Kurdish Peshmerga, successfully defended it from occupation. Some residents who fled have already returned, along with Christians displaced from worse-affected towns and villages.