This report is about perceptions of reconciliation and conflict among the Christians in Iraq. Being a religious minority group in a country that has been fraught with conflicts and instability, this community, like other minorities in Iraq, endured suppression, displacement, and degradation. This, in addition to the weakening rule of law, has had an inverse impact on their communal relations, causing many to migrate. Furthermore, the Islamic State’s (IS) invasion of large swathes of land in the Nineveh Plain, where large numbers of Christians live, was yet another severe blow inflicted upon this community.
The findings of this study reveal that the Christian community has had a conflictual relationship with the Shabaks, another minority group, in the Nineveh Plain well before IS’s emergence in 2014. The interviewees claim that the Shabaks encroached on their lands in an attempt to undermine the Sunnis in Mosul, serve external agendas and change the demography of the area.
This report also shows that the Christians have disagreements with the Sunni Arabs, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), and the Central government of Iraq (CGI). In order to fend off the rising Shia dominance in the Nineveh Plain, Sunnis are partly blamed for increasing the level of violence in the area. Many Christians held grievances against KRG’s policies in the Nineveh Plain before 2013. They argue that in its attempts to shield influence against Baghdad, the KRG caused friction and fragmentation among the Christians. As for the CGI, the interviewees expressed mistrust since it was unable to protect them from IS’s onslaught.
In the eyes of Christians, the security situation after liberation does not portend well. The Shia Shabaks are thought to pose a security concern in the Nineveh Plain because of their involvement with Shia armed forces while there are Christian armed groups as well. Baghdad and Erbil have not engaged in debating future control of the security of the Nineveh Plains. Therefore, they see the potential for eruption of violence which may inflict great damage on reconciliation efforts.
In short, the dynamics in Nineveh Plain were not stable before June 2014. Inter and intra-communal relations were strained, the political landscape was divisive and the quality of services was poor. The KRG and Baghdad are usually blamed for the overall pre-crisis climate as they were competing for hegemony. The ramifications of that unhealthy competition were manifold. Polarisation, neglect, underdevelopment, and strained relationships are just some. IS’s invasion strained the relations further and a return to the status quo ante means protracted conflicts and further instability. The bigger danger is that more and more Christians would leave the country should the situation remain unchanged.
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About MERI: The Middle East Research Institute is Iraq’s leading policy-research institute and think tank. It is an independent, entirely grant-funded not-for-profit organisation, based in Erbil, Kurdistan Region. Its mission is to contribute to the process of nation-building, state-building and democratisation via engagement, research, analysis and policy debates.
MERI’s main objectives include promoting and developing human rights, good governance, the rule of law and social and economic prosperity. MERI conduct high impact, high quality research (including purpose-based field work) and has published extensively in areas of: human rights, government reform, international politics, national security, ISIS, refugees, IDPs, minority rights (Christians, Yezidis, Turkmen, Shabaks, Sabi mandeans), Baghdad-Erbil relations, Hashd Al-Shabi, Peshmarga, violence against women, civil society. MERI engages policy- and decision-makers, the civil society and general public via publication, focused group discussions and conferences (MERI Forum).