Religious minorities’ plans to return to Iraq beset by political differences

Christians and Yezidis who had suffered deeply under the Islamic State (IS) have celebrated the extremist regime’s recent expulsion from Mosul and the surrounding villages of the Nineveh Plain, with some of these refugees already moving back to their ancestral homeland. But religious and political differences are also returning to the region, with various religious leaders and groups lining up on opposing sides, reports The Tablet (August 12), a Catholic magazine in the UK. Plans about how to resettle these groups have been under debate almost since the IS pushed these religious minorities out of Mosul and the surrounding villages, most notably the proposal to establish an autonomous region for Christians and Yezidis [See June 2016 RW for more on this proposal]. The problem is that Iraqi Kurds, who were instrumental in routing the IS, also dispute claims to the region. The Christians distrust the Kurds, believing that they received little security from Kurdish troops after the Kurds disarmed them.

The Yezidis have fewer issues with the Kurds, but it is the strong political divisions among Christians, who have shrunk from two million to 400,000 today, that make them “easy prey for manipulation,” writes Filipe d’Avillez. Although the crisis in the region has brought the various churches closer together, they still have different takes on politics. The Assyrian Church of the East tends to favor autonomy, as do the Syriac Catholic and Orthodox churches. The leadership of the Chaldean Catholic Church has been more opposed to this idea, though it has recently softened its position. Avillez concludes that an autonomous region may be the only way for these religions to preserve themselves. But for this proposal to work, “church leaders and politicians, the people on the ground and the leaders in the diaspora, will have to achieve something that so far has always proved elusive: to pull in the same direction.”

(The Tablet,