Wednesday, May 18, 2011

108. Iraq: terror in Kirkuk as war looms

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 108 | Wed 18 May 2011


By Elizabeth Kendal

Kirkuk is a hotly contested city in northern Iraq's 'disputed territories'. Oil-rich, hugely strategic Kirkuk is home to Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen and Assyrian-Chaldean Christians. It is essentially Iraq in miniature. For several years now this prayer ministry has been warning that Kirkuk could explode at any moment into the mother-of-all-wars. Turkey, regional Shi'ites, and regional Sunnis all have strong interests. Recently the United States Institute of Peace identified Kirkuk as the greatest threat to Iraq's stability. As the US withdrawal from Iraq approaches, tensions are escalating and the stakes are being raised, leaving Christians exceedingly vulnerable.

After the 1968 revolution Saddam Hussein consolidated Sunni Arab and Baathist control over Kirkuk's vast oil reserves through a policy of 'Arabisation'. From the early 1970s onwards hundreds of thousands of non-Arabs (mostly Kurds) were driven out of Kirkuk and replaced with loyal Arabs. Everything changed after the regime fell in 2003. Article 58 of Iraq's new Constitution stipulated that all non-original residents of Kirkuk province -- i.e. Arabs imported by Saddam Hussein -- must return to their places of origin, and all displaced families -- predominantly Kurds -- must return to the province and claim their properties. This later became Article 140 that further mandates conducting a census ahead of a referendum to determine whether Kirkuk will be annexed to autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan or remain under federal control from Baghdad. The spectre of a referendum on status has only inflamed ethnic tensions. Kurdish police and Arab soldiers recently engaged in an armed skirmish in the centre of Kirkuk. The situation is highly volatile.

But Kirkuk is not coveted by Arabs and Kurds alone. Kirkuk is also historically and strategically important to neighbouring Turkey and to Iraqi Turkmen. The Turkmen do not want to see the Kurds further empowered and they do want to see Kirkuk's oil flowing north through Turkey. In 2003 the Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITC) moved its headquarters from Arbil to Kirkuk. To challenge the ruling Kurdish bloc during the 2010 elections, the ITC entered a coalition with Ayad Allawi's secular parliamentary bloc, Al-Iraqiyya, which is strong in the 'disputed territories'. A UN-sponsored meeting on Kirkuk was scheduled to be held in Baghdad on 5 May but had to be cancelled after Arab and Turkmen representatives refused to attend unless the Kurds were denied participation. Distrust and hostility abound.

On 12 May, less than two weeks after Ersat Salihi became the head ITC Member of Parliament and ITC Kirkuk City President, Salihi's heavily-guarded home in Kirkuk was attacked with explosives while the family were all inside. Whilst nobody was hurt, this attack and the subsequent one made on investigating police were highly organised and clearly designed to send a political message. This marks the first time a Turkmen leader has been specifically targeted in Iraq, further raising the stakes.

Normally ignored by the media, beneath all this is the smallest and most vulnerable of all Kirkuk's constituent groups: the Assyrian-Chaldean Christians. These are a people who have been native to Upper Mesopotamia throughout history but are a mere remnant now, comprising less than one percent of the population. They are essentially inconsequential politically and militarily -- a threat to nobody. However, to Islamic fundamentalists they are infidel 'dogs': unclean, undesirable and unwanted. On Saturday 14 May terrorists abducted Ashur Issa Yaqub (29), a Chaldean Christian construction worker, husband and father of three, demanding an impossible US$100,000 ransom. On Monday 16 May police found Yaqub's mutilated body, dumped in the open. According to provincial health chief, Sadiq Omar Rasul, the body 'carried traces of torture and the bites of dogs'. But 'traces' of torture is a gross understatement. The torture inflicted on this young man is beyond comprehension. His gruesome murder -- labelled by the Archbishop of Kirkuk, Louis Sako, as an 'inhuman act' -- has sent shockwaves of terror through Kirkuk's remnant Christian community. If war erupts Islamic jihadists will doubtless seek to exploit the chaos to eliminate the Christian presence -- and not only in Kirkuk.


* surround, protect, lead and comfort his remnant people with his 'everlasting arms' (Deut 33:27a), so that every faithful believer will be profoundly aware of the love and presence of the Lord who never leaves or forsakes his loved ones; may those who choose to flee find refuge and may those who stay know peace.

* speak into the hearts of Iraqis that a solution might be found for the Kirkuk problem: essentially selfish greed; may reasonable sharing become possible and a devastating regional war averted with God stilling 'the tumult of the peoples'. (Psalm 65:7c)

* open the hearts of many Iraqi Muslims to receive the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ.

* cause the light of Christ to shine through every faithful Iraqi believer to great saving effect, for the sake of the Church and the glory of God. 'And they will do these things [persecute and kill you] because they have not known the Father, nor me.' (John 16:3 ESV)



Kirkuk is an ethnically mixed, hotly contested city in northern Iraq's 'disputed territories'. As the day of the US withdrawal from Iraq approaches, many fear the resulting security vacuum will open the door for the battle for highly strategic, oil-rich Kirkuk to begin. Should war eventuate, the remnant indigenous Christian community would be exceedingly vulnerable. Islamic militants would doubtless exploit the chaos to eliminate the Christian presence -- and not only in Kirkuk. Over 14 &15 May, terrorists abducted Ashur Issa Yaqub (29), a Chaldean Christian construction worker, husband and father of three. They tortured him to death before dumping his mutilated body in the open. This 'inhuman act' has sent shockwaves of terror through Kirkuk's minority Christian community. Please pray for Iraq's besieged Christians.