A majority of Iraq’s Members of Parliament have rejected any proposals to set aside safe areas for Christians and other indigenous minorities in the country’s Nineveh Plains, once the province is liberated from the “Islamic State” (IS).
“The Parliament has voted to keep Nineveh’s provincial boundaries as they were prior to 2003,” the London-based Arabic Al-Hayat newspaper quoted MP Ahmed al-Mashhadani, of the Sunni Iraqi Forces Alliance, as saying.
“The MPs have been conscious of a grave venture, [and] have successfully aborted a division of the province,” he added, stressing what he called a “parliamentary drive to reject projects aimed at dividing the country and causing chaos”.
The Iraqi Parliament’s vote on 26 Sep. received broad support from both Shiite forces and Sunni parliamentarians, reported Agenzia Fides. The motion forestalls efforts to secure “semi-autonomous” zones in the north-eastern region for minorities, who have disproportionately borne the brunt of what the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, in March called “genocide”.
Judging any reassignment of administrative boundaries as “unconstitutional”, representatives of Iraq’s majority said any possible redress should be decided by residents of the province after it has been fully freed from IS.
Earlier this month, minority rights’ advocates, including the group In Defense of Christians, called on Washington DC to establish “safe zones” to facilitate the return of ethnic and religious minorities, including Assyrian Christians and Yazidis, to the Nineveh Plains.
Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Washington D.C.-based Hudson Institute, meanwhile warned that the final drive to dislodge IS from Iraq’s second city of Mosul will create a surge of thousands fleeing the battle into the nearby Plains.
“Those people are probably going to go into the towns and villages of the Nineveh Plain that are standing there, unprotected and uninhabited, that belong to Christians and Yazidis, and they will become entrenched there,” said Shea.
Since the IS onslaught in and around Mosul in the summer of 2014, Christians have been almost entirely forced out into adjacent Kurdish areas. This left jihadists in control of much of the north-eastern Plains, the Christians’ last foothold in a country that has been racked by renewed Islamic fervour since the US-led invasion in 2003.