Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts A Plan for Protecting Iraq’s Minority Communities

A Plan for Protecting Iraq’s Minority Communities

The American Interest 


Now that the U.S. Congress and Secretary of State have officially recognized (as of March 2016) that ISIS has perpetrated genocides against multiple ethnic and religious minorities in Northern Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East, we believe that the creation of a multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian province for the peoples of the Nineveh Plain in Northern Iraq—one that could eventually become a semi-autonomous region within a federated Iraq—is consistent with American values and interests.

The Middle East today is locked in a web of complex conflict between and among hostile factions. Many of those factions are proxies of regional powers that are fighting for control over a region whose current international and internal boundaries will most likely be redrawn. And while Arabs, both Sunnis and Shi‘a, and Kurds have also suffered greatly, Christians and other vulnerable minorities are the most forgotten and most vulnerable in the region: They are caught in the crossfire, targeted because of their religious beliefs and ethnicity, and are being killed or forced from their homes in record numbers. These minorities are not strangers to the Middle East; they are in fact the indigenous peoples, the “first nations,” of the region—Assyrian, Chaldean, and Syriac Christians, Yazidis, Shabaks, Turkmen, and others—who have lived in Mesopotamia for centuries and in some cases millennia.

Many of these minorities have lost everything in recent years: homes, businesses, livelihoods, physical safety, dignity, and hope for a secure future in the land of their birth. Today they often live in tents and trailers. Every day hundreds flee the region to seek refuge abroad. Ancient communities, cultures, and languages are disappearing forever. It is now possible, for the first time in nearly 2,000 years, to imagine that this besieged region, the historic Cradle of Christianity, will be without any Christians in our lifetime.

ISIS is no longer a mere non-state actor, whose limited organizational scope is to inflict violence and terror; it now governs significant swathes of territory, from the Levant to North Africa, in addition to maintaining a global reach for terrorist operations. While the West must focus its efforts on the destruction of ISIS, its funding, and ideological wellsprings, it, and the U.S. government in particular, must offer concrete post-conflict solutions, including decentralized governance and regional autonomy, reflecting the complex cultural and ethnic realities on the ground. One region that could serve as a model for local governance (and pluralism) is the Nineveh Plain.

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