Tuesday, March 17, 2020

RLPB 541. Iraq: Christians facing increased risk

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 541 | 18 Mar 2020
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by Elizabeth Kendal

click here for video and transcripts.
testimony of Reine Hanna,
Assyrian Policy Institute.
Today, fewer than 200,000 Assyrians (the indigenous people of Mesopotamia) remain in Iraq; most are displaced and destitute [see: RLPB 507, Christian Crisis in Mesopotamia (19 Jun 2019) and RLPB 493, Decimation to Elimination (13 Mar 2019)]. On 26 September 2019 the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) held a hearing entitled Religious Minorities' Fight to Remain in Iraq. As USCIRF Vice-Chair Gayle Manchin noted in her appeal for international support, Christian 'communities are now questioning whether there is any genuine hope of returning to safety and security in their homeland'.

As ISIS was driven from the Nineveh Plains - the Assyrian heartland for millennia - the security vacuum was filled by armed Kurds (Sunni Muslims) and Shabaks (Shi'ite Muslims, backed by Baghdad and Tehran) who rapidly colonised what is now known as the 'disputed territories'. Today, Baghdeda/Qaraqosh - the largest Christian town in the Nineveh Plains - is completely surrounded by Iran-backed Shi'ite militias. Bartella, the second-largest town - previously 95 percent Christian - is now majority Shabak. Furthermore, while Shabaks control the local government, Shabak militias control 'security' and operate checkpoints. Christians are abused as second-class citizens while their businesses face extortion, boycotts and criminality committed with impunity.

Imam Khomeini school, Bartella
One Assyrian shopkeeper in Bartella told America Magazine (27 Feb 2020), 'Frankly speaking, if they [the Shabak] had the chance, they'd take everything from us. If they have the chance to attack, they'd do more damage than ISIS did.' This raises the question: What could provide the Kurds and the Shabak with that 'chance to attack'? Answer: total chaos! The Kurds and Shabak could complete the Assyrian genocide if provided the cover of total chaos. Today, as Iraq faces political paralysis from the largest anti-government protests in its history and the horrific prospect of becoming a battlefield for a US-Iran proxy war, the ultimate, but not inevitable, Christian crisis (genocide) looms larger than ever.

by Elizabeth Kendal
All three imperial nations surrounding Mesopotamia - Iran, Turkey and the Arabs - desire the elimination of 'the Fertile Crescent of Minorities' which has for 100 years served as a buffer zone limiting Persian, Turkish and Sunni Arab regional aspirations. If the West were truly interested in regional security, it would not support any of these imperial powers. Rather, it would support the consolidation of Mesopotamia as a safe place for ethnic and religious minorities. Russia (with its long history of Christian-Muslim relations) understands this; the West (which lacks experience and historical understanding) seems not to! If Iraq dissolves into chaos, the Sunni Kurds and Shi'ite Shabaks would have the cover they require to complete the genocide of the Assyrian people in Iraq.

While this looks inevitable, there are, however, two unknowns. (1) It is unknown how the COVID-19 pandemic will influence events: it could increase the likelihood of war (as failing tyrants employ conflict as distraction) or it could induce restraint. (2) It is also unknown how God might yet intervene, in answer to the prayers of many, to redeem all suffering and 'turn back the battle at the gate' (from Isaiah 28:5-6).


* intervene in the fragile, volatile and threatened nation of Iraq to bless, protect, sustain and preserve his precious Church; may all Christians living in Iraq - be they indigenous Assyrians or Muslim converts - draw ever closer to the Lord; may they trust him with their future and grow in grace and faith every day.

* thwart every evil plot to steal Assyrian land and even eliminate the Assyrian presence; may such an evil plan never come to pass and may the Lord intervene, in answer to prayer, to 'turn back the battle at the gate' (from Isaiah 28:5-6)

* redeem these days of serious hardship, political upheaval, geopolitical tensions, military threat and deep uncertainty to draw many hearts towards peace, and to prepare many hearts to receive the Gospel. 'For nothing will be impossible with God' (angel to Mary, Luke 1:37 ESV).

* reveal the plight of the four aid workers abducted in Baghdad on 20 January; no ransom demands have been made, and the whereabouts of the three French nationals and one Iraqi, who were serving with the French Christian charity SOS Chretiens d'Orient (SOS Christians of the Middle East), remain unknown to all but the Lord.


Today, fewer than 200,000 indigenous Christian Assyrians remain in Iraq, their future uncertain. While ISIS was being driven from the Assyrian heartland, Kurds and Shabaks were flooding in, exploiting the security vacuum. Throughout Northern Iraq's Nineveh Plains, Assyrian towns have been colonised and taken over either by Kurds (Sunnis) or by Shabaks (Shi'ites, supported by Baghdad and Tehran). Consequently, historic Assyrian towns are no longer safe for Assyrians. Meanwhile, Iraq is growing increasingly volatile. Late last year, Baghdad was rocked by the largest anti-government protests in Iraq's history. Tensions are soaring, especially now it also appears that Iraq could become the battleground for a US-Iran proxy war. Should that eventuate, the Kurds and Shabaks would doubtless move to complete the genocide of the Assyrian people under the cover of chaos. Please pray.


Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com