Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

The Future of Iraq’s Minorities

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

The Future of Iraq’s Minorities

Article excerpt

With ISIS nearing closer to defeat in Iraq every day, many discussions are taking place about how to rebuild and stabilize the country so it does not fall back into the mass violence and chaos unleashed by the 2003 U.S. invasion. On Aug. 1, the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) hosted a discussion at its Washington, DC headquarters specifically focusing on Iraq's minority communities, titled "Stabilizing Iraq: What is the Future for Minorities?"

"Iraq is not Iraq without its minorities," declared Iraqi Ambassador to the U.S. Fareed Yasseen in his opening remarks prior to the panel discussion. The preservation and participation of minorities in Iraqi society is "vital," he added, "and it is recognized by the constitution." Describing minority integration, humanitarian work and stabilization as all interconnected, the ambassador said that stabilization, which will allow people to return to their homes, must be then followed by reconstruction. However, he continued, "Beyond all of this, I think one issue that is of prime importance for us to deal with is the issue of justice," and preventing the taking of revenge by those harmed by ISIS. Finally, psychological help is needed to "heal the survivors."

Yasseen concluded by reading a list he wrote in 2003 of actions the international community could take to help Iraq. Remarkably, every item on the list still applies in the post-ISIS context.

Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in the U.S., also spoke. Before she could begin, however, a group of young people stood up holding signs and began chanting, "No justice, no peace, shame on KRG!" As the group was being escorted out by security, a young man yelled, "You leftAssyrian Christians to die!"

Rahman nonetheless listed several things she said the KRG has done to help minorities. These include: being the "first government to recognize ISIS crimes as genocide"; continuing to "encourage the United Nations, Iraq, and other member countries to open an investigation and create an international or hybrid tribunal"; helping rescue 3,092 Yezidis; opening a "rape victim center in Dohuk"; protecting and providing shelter to "hundreds of thousands" of people from different groups; the Peshmerga liberating ISIS-held territory; and its constitution and laws that "protect the rights of all people of all faiths and backgrounds." She also mentioned the possibility of increasing the number of designated seats for minorities in the KRG parliament.

Going forward, Rahman emphasized the centrality of reconciliation. "No one can deny that trust, if there was any, is now broken among the communities that used to live together" in Iraq, she said. "It's our shared responsibility to make a coordinated effort to pursue justice and accountability." However, she acknowledged, this will be very difficult, as "it's immensely painful to be betrayed by your neighbor, to have your loved ones raped, enslaved, killed, purely for their faith or their language or their background."

Speaking through a translator, Vian Dakhil, a Yezidi member of the Iraqi parliament, asked the international community to provide relief so that Yezidis can begin a new life; guarantees these atrocities won't happen again; and recognition of ISIS crimes as genocide. …

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