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WikiLeaks: 2008-06-17: 08BAGHDAD1830: RRT Erbil: NEA-I Director Discusses Minority Rights During KRG Visit

by WikiLeaks. 08BAGHDAD1830: June 17, 2008.

Posted: Sunday, September 08, 2013 at 02:35 PM UT


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Reference ID Created Classification Origin
08BAGHDAD1830 2008-06-17 13:16 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Baghdad
DE RUEHGB #1830/01 1691316
O 171316Z JUN 08
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 BAGHDAD 001830 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/17/2018 
Classified By: RRT Erbil Regional Coordinator Jess Baily for Reasons 1. 
4 (b,d) 
This is an Erbil Regional Reconstruction Team message. 
1.  (C) Special Representative on Minorities in Iraq, NEA-I 
Director Richard Schmierer met June 11 and 12 Iraq with 
Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) officials, Christian 
leaders, and other minority communities that have taken 
refuge in the KRG.  Clear themes emerged, demonstrating the 
opportunities and challenges faced by these communities. 
They have found security and limited financial support from 
the KRG, yet still face systematic discrimination and 
economic woes.  While Christian leaders, such as KRG Minister 
of Finance Sarkis Agjahan and Assyrian Democratic Movement 
Secretary General Yonadem Kanna support an autonomous zone 
for Christians, members of the Christian community remained 
skeptical, noting it would become "like Israel," surrounded 
by enemies on all sides. 
2.  (C) Summary, cont.:  Christians IDPs who have taken 
refuge in the region expressed uncertainty about the future, 
and bitterness toward the past.  None planned to return to 
the communities they had fled in Baghdad and Basra, noting 
their children have no futures in those cities.  While no 
easy solutions to ensure the survival of the Christian 
community in Iraq are apparent, discussions with Father 
Bashar Warda, St. Peter Seminary Rector did delve into 
possible actions the U.S. could take to mediate the 
disagreements between the various religious factions, and 
encourage them to work as a united front to ensure the rights 
for minority communities in Iraq.  KRG Prime Minister 
Nechirvan Barzani offered to set up a committee to explore 
ways for the KRG to improve its assistance for religious 
minorities.  End Summary. 
Autonomous Zone: Popular among leadership, 
   but doubts in the community 
3.  (C) In a meeting June 11 with NEA-I Director, KRG 
Minister of Finance Sarkis Aghajan strongly advocated an 
autonomous zone, noting that if Christians had been granted 
their own areas previously they would have been able to 
retain their lands and their communities instead of the mass 
emigration now underway (Reftel).  He noted others speak out 
against an autonomous zone, but are motivated by personal 
conflicts instead of working to save Christians in Iraq.  A 
referendum must be held, Sarkis explained, as it would allow 
the Christian community to determine its fate in Iraq. 
Yonadem Kanna, Secretary General of the Assyrian Democratic 
Movement (ADM), on the other hand, advocated providing local 
administrative control to religious minority communities per 
Article 125 of the Iraqi Constitution in a meeting June 12, 
rather than an autonomous zone based in the Ninewa Plains as 
Sarkis urged.  For example, Kanna said that parts of Baghdad 
could serve as key areas in which to allocate increased local 
administrative control, with what he numbered to be 27,000 
strong Christian families living in Baghdad. 
4.  (C) Christian IDPs expressed great skepticism about an 
autonomous zone in a dinner meeting with NEA-I Director June 
11, noting it would become like Israel, surrounded by 
enemies.  They said it would isolate Christians from their 
Iraqi heritage and homeland, and that the communities they 
now live in would push them to live with their own brethren 
in the autonomous zone.  They asked what would we do, stuck 
in small villages in the Ninewa Plain?  Many Christian IDPs 
are professionals, engineers and medical doctors, reluctant 
to build up their lives in small villages, where agriculture 
would likely be the primary occupation.  Kurdistan National 
Assembly (KNA) member Bayzar Ohan, an Armenian member of the 
Chaldean Democratic Party, told NEA-I Director June 12 that 
an autonomous zone would not work, as Christians are not 
located in a contiguous area.  The key, she said, is to 
ensure minority rights as enshrined in Article 121 of the 
Iraqi constitution are respected, and that authority at the 
sub-district level should be increased, to allow Christians 
to have an active voice in politics, as their communities are 
too small for significant representation at the district 
5.  (C) Father Bashar Warda, Rector of St. Peter's Seminary, 
which relocated from Baghdad to Erbil in 2006, told NEA-I 
Director June 12 that church leadership remains neutral on 
the proposed autonomous zone, preferring to remain out of 
what is ultimately a political decision.  (Note:  Sarkis told 
BAGHDAD 00001830  002 OF 003 
NEA-I Director that the Chaldean Patriarch has consented to 
an autonomous zone, yet has not made his opinion public. 
However, UNAMI SRSG Staffan de Mistura told NEA/I Director 
Schmierer  on June 16 that the Patriarch told de Mistura that 
he did not support an autonomous zone because he believed 
that such a zone would cause Christians living outside that 
zone to be intimidated or threatened to leave their areas. 
End Note.)  Although Warda believes an autonomous zone would 
be a bad idea, he explained that the two key Christian 
political leaders in Iraq, Yonadem Kanna and Sarkis, are 
promoting the autonomous zone idea. He said the key would be 
to bring the two men together, to form a united front for 
Christian issues, as the community would unite behind them, 
and perhaps achieve the strength necessary to push forward 
the Christian agenda with the Government of Iraq. 
KRG offers refuge, but discrimination exists 
6.  (C) Christian IDPs told NEA-I Director that while the are 
grateful for the security and limited financial support they 
receive in the KRG, systemic discrimination prohibits them 
from integrating into the community.  Bashar Moneer Beeney, 
an internist who fled to the KRG in February 2008, said he 
receives only three hundred dollars per month for his work at 
a KRG health clinic, and is not compensated based on his 
experience and expertise.  Kurdish doctors with similar 
skills are paid much more, he said, and claimed discrepancies 
in pay between Kurds and Christian IDPs can be found in 
several fields. 
7.  (C) KNA member Ohan described how Arabic was previously 
taught to the Christian community in Zakho (a district in 
Dohuk Province), but after the 1991 uprising, all teaching 
shifted to Kurdish only.  Today Christian students have 
difficulty achieving the grades necessary to attend 
universities, she explained, as they are taught in Kurdish, 
and not their native tongue.  According to Father Warda, 
church leadership has brought the teaching of Christians in 
Kurdish to the attention of President Massoud Barzani, who 
expressed concern and took notes.  However, nothing has 
changed, Father Warda said, and despite rhetoric in support 
of Christian rights among KRG leadership, district level 
administrators and leaders continue to push a Kurdish 
nationalistic agenda and refuse to allow Christians to be 
taught in Arabic.  (Note:  The KRG has increased Arabic 
teaching for Christian IDPs living in urban areas such as An 
Kawa in Erbil, however, the benefit does not appear to be 
extended to non-IDP Christians in the KRG.  End Note.) 
8.  (C) Yonadem Kanna told NEA-I Director that the KRG has 
systematically seized Christian land over several years, and 
simply uses the Christian cause as a proxy to further Kurdish 
control of land in Iraq.   He said that the KRG leadership 
had threatened Christians interested in joining the Mosul 
police recruitment drive, resulting in low numbers of 
Christians being trained to protect their communities. 
9.  (C)  Another economic challenge faced by the Christian 
IDP community in the KRG is the corruption affecting activity 
in the private sector.  One interlocutor, a construction 
engineer from Basra named Laith Alqa, commented that he 
refused to reopen his construction business, despite 
considerable potential contract work, due to the amount of 
bribes and kickbacks he would have to pay. 
Future Uncertain for Many 
10.  (C) The Christian IDPs expressed gratefulness to 
Minister Sarkis and the KRG, as they have offered protection 
for Christians, and recognized their plight while the 
Government of Iraq offers nothing.  Embittered and 
traumatized, all expressed deep reservations about returning 
to Baghdad or Basra.  Maysoon Majeed, an engineer from Basra, 
noted that there is no point in returning south, as the 
Christian community no longer exists.  How would she find 
husbands for her three daughters in such an environment, she 
asked.  Several IDPs also expressed a strong distrust of 
Muslims in general, saying that they simply could no longer 
live peacefully with Muslims, given what has happened since 
2003.  They said that although the KRG, under Nechirvan 
Barzani's patronage, provides protection, no long term 
guarantees can be found for minorities in Iraq. 
11.  (C) The spiritual leader of the Sabean Mandean 
community, Sheikh Sattar Al Zahrony, expressed similar doubts 
to A/DAS.  He said Sabean Mandeans numbered around 35,000 
people before 2003, and now are reduced to less than 6,000. 
He believes their permanent departure from Iraq is imminent, 
given the continued threats against the community and rampant 
discrimination, such as the belief among Muslims that Sabean 
BAGHDAD 00001830  003 OF 003 
Mandeans are unclean.  He gave the example of a Sabean 
Mandean woman who was raped and told by her rapists that she 
was now clean and would be allowed to enter heaven.  Al 
Zahrony said extremism and intolerance had swept through Iraq 
from Saudi Arabia and Iran, and said he expects that less 
than ten percent of Sabean Mandeans who have fled Iraq would 
ever return. 
U.S. and KRG options to help 
12.  (C) Father Warda said that the U.S. could play a 
powerful role by mediating between the two Christian leaders, 
Sarkis and Kanna, and work to unify the various Christian 
factions, so they work together to preserve Iraq's Christian 
community.  He cited the U.S. role in resolving the Kurdish 
civil war as an example of U.S. ability to bring groups 
together to ensure they achieve their mutual objectives.  KNA 
Member Ohan Bayzar said that job opportunities and education 
also remain key to supporting Christian communities in Iraq. 
Father Warda has spent much of his time visiting Christian 
villages.  Noting the poor infrastructure, lack of roads, 
schools, and health clinics, and lack of agricultural 
equipment, he said that even basic community planning would 
help and could be used to solicit funds from European donors. 
13.  (C) In a June 12 breakfast meeting, NEA/I Director 
pressed KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani to do more to 
not only protect religious minorities but to increase their 
quality of life, particularly be creating economic 
opportunities.  "We want to help," said Nechirvan, offering 
to set up a committee to explore ways in which the KRG could 
improve its assistance to religious minorities.  Comment: 
The RRT will follow up with PM Nechirvan and his offer to set 
up a committee and efforts determine how best to promote 
minority rights in the KRG.  End Comment. 
14. (U) NEA-I Director Schmierer cleared this message. 


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