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Ethnic Exodus

Nawzat Shamdeen
On 1 May 2008, just days before the launch of Um al-Rabiain security campaign by security forces in Mosul, four masked men in the broad daylight marched into the crowded al-Jazaer market in the center of Mosul and…
14.06.2010  |  Mosul

Before the police arrived, shopkeepers nearby heard the message over loudspeakers. The message was clear:

"This is the fate of any Shabak who continues to live in Mosul."

Exactly two years afterwards, with ethnic violence becoming routine in Mosul, a bus, carrying Christian students from al-Hamadaniyah district, one of the biggest Christian cities in Ninewa province, was attacked with explosive devices near a checkpoint. Two students were killed in the attack and more than 150 were injured.

Ten days later, on 11 May, masked armed men stormed an Iraqi army officer's house in Hay al-Jazaer in the city center. His 18-year-old sister was killed and his brother seriously injured, according to the city's police statement. The targeted army officer is from the Shabak minority.

Many other attacks took place in the city targeting Christians, Kurds, Turkmen, Yazidis, Shabak and other minorities living in the city. Armed groups appear and disappear suddenly and the police and soldiers who are heavily deployed in the city's neighborhoods, roads and markets can barely obstruct them.

"Targeting the city's minorities in Ninewa is not the work of just one armed group," said a member of one of Mosul’s ethnic communities whose brother was killed.

"Al-Qaeda is not the only threat to minorities in Iraq but there are other armed groups who have contacts with Iraq's neighboring countries and they are implementing the agendas of these countries in Iraq. Some armed groups are affiliated with influential political forces in the country," he added.

"The security forces are not innocent," continued the man. "Attacks are committed in broad daylight which proves that security forces, if not directly involved, are at least failing to prevent armed groups in their assassination attempts."

Since 2003, minorities in Mosul have been migrating in larger numbers. The regular security campaigns have not ended attacks.

Yazidis, Kurds, Turkmen and Christians have all been targeted since 2003, with thousands dying and many more being displaced in violence.

Shabaks, a mainly Shia minority in Mosul, lost around 1,000 of their number in attacks, with many more leaving the city. The only Shia mosque in the city, al-Faysaliah was bombed, with the mosque’s imam and one of his sons dying in the blast.

Gunmen set-up checkpoints at the city’s entrances, selecting people for execution based only on their names. Khadida is a name used only by Yazidis, Haval is Kurdish and George is Christian. All faced the threat of death as they passed checkpoints.

The exodus is perhaps the largest in Mosul’s history and the city is now almost completely emptied of all its minorities. Only the Sunni Arabs remain.

Ahmad Rabie, a journalist and an observer of the minorities' situation in the city told Niqash that "Christians did not leave the city despite being targeted by al-Qaeda,”

They remained in their houses but "took the necessary precautions," he added.

The city was once known for the colourful traditional clothing of its residents. It has now become of just one single colour.

When a Yazidi or a Kurd does risk entering the city, they try their best to conceal their ethnic identity and would not dare to wear traditional costume. The only costume that one can see now in the city is the traditional Arab costume. More and more people are wearing it now with the increased number of Arab migrants in the last two decades coming from urban areas and settling in Mosul city.

Rabie says that the only Kurds who remain are those with no polltical, administrative or military contacts in the Kurdish region.

"Many Kurds were killed because one of their relatives serves in the Peshmerga or serves as an official in one of the Kurdistan Region's cities."

Atheel al-Nujaifi, the province's governor, in response to the attacks on Christian students' busses, called on the UN, the Arab League and the EU to initiate an international investigation into the attacks and the organised acts of violence and against minorities in Ninewa.

Nujaifi accused Ninewa's operation command, reporting directly to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, of a lack of cooperation with local government despite continuous demands by the latter to be part of security plans.

"The reason why the central government did not take any step regarding attacks in Mosul is the inaccurate reports by the intelligence agencies on the actual situation in the city," said Nujaifi.

"The criminal investigations procedures are weak," he said, because "they are conducted by military officers who lack the practical experience qualifying them to investigate such incidents."

Many people in Ninewa criticise the local and central government and accuse both of being biased. Official statements condemning attacks are only issued when Christians and their churches are attacked. Tens of Kurds, Shabak, Turkmen, Yazidis are being killed and displaced but people can barely hear of any condemnations of such acts.

Hundreds of Yazidis were killed three years ago when four cars exploded in Mosul.

“Hundreds were killed and injured and tens of houses destroyed,” said Shaker Mahmoud, a Shabak writer. “There was no official condemnation of these attacks.”

During 2009 attacks target Shabak Shias in the North which killed killed and injured tens of people, were followed just hours later by attacks against Turkmen. There are also the daily assassination attempts targeting minorities in the city.

"No official statements were issued condemning the attacks against the Shabak and Turkmen. When any attack targets Christians, politicians as well as the media make it a point to react and condemn," added Mahmoud.

He believes that attacks on Christians get disproportionate attention because of the international support that Christians can count upon.

"Nobody cares for other minorities and usually the reaction to attacks against them is so limited compared to the size of aggression and the damage caused."

Many observers agree that Mosul has become almost a no-go area for minorities. If nothing is done, problems could reach into the surrounding villages and they too could empty.

"We need more coordination on the security level between the local and the central government to reach an end to attacks targeting minorities in the city and its surrounding areas."