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WikiLeaks: 2008-06-18: 08BAGHDAD1848: Way Ahead on Assistance to Religious Minorities

by WikiLeaks. 08BAGHDAD1848: June 18, 2008.

Posted: Sunday, September 08, 2013 at 02:42 PM UT


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Reference ID Created Classification Origin
08BAGHDAD1848 2008-06-18 16:24 SECRET Embassy Baghdad
DE RUEHGB #1848/01 1701624 
O 181624Z JUN 08 
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 04 BAGHDAD 001848 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/17/2018 
REF: A. BAGHDAD 1705 B. BAGHDAD 1111 C. BAGHDAD 1017 D. BAGHDAD 663 E. BAGHDAD 284 F. BAGHDAD 1552 G. 07 BAGHDAD 2782 H. BAGHDAD 1575 I. BAGHDAD 1571 J. BAGHDAD 1830 
Classified By: Charge d'Affaires, a.i. Patricia A. Butenis for reasons 
1.4(b) and (d) 
1. (S) Post is actively engaged in efforts to address the 
plight of vulnerable religious minority populations in Iraq, 
in particular in the areas of jobs and security. The USG 
already provides significant assistance to regions of Iraq 
with large religious minority populations, particularly in 
the north. USAID and PRT funds support programs in 
governance, health, education, civil society, water, income 
generation, and more; and have rehabilitated schools, trained 
officials, and helped foster small businesses. We need to 
press the GOI and KRG to do more for religious minorities in 
terms of protecting them, ensuring they are not discriminated 
against in employment, education, or other ways, and 
providing support to their communities. We outline an action 
plan that includes: making this a priority issue to raise 
regularly with senior GOI and KRG officials and encourage 
them to take concrete steps to improve the situation for 
these communities, determining what kind of support religious 
minority communities themselves feel they need, increasing 
interaction with a wide range of contacts in Baghdad and 
elsewhere, and rapidly reviewing our existing assistance to 
determine what more we can do. We also provide some comments 
on the NSC's paper on "Protecting Religious Minorities in 
What We,re Doing Now 
2. (C) Post is focused on the situation of religious 
minorities in Iraq. At the Ambassador's request and under 
his direction we have set up a Minorities Working Group (ref 
I), which coordinates and directs our efforts to determine 
what's needed in order to promote security, stability, and 
economic prosperity for the minority communities, in both the 
immediate and long term; and what,s necessary to create 
conditions in which they can remain, return, and flourish. 
In particular, we are reviewing what the USG and the GOI are 
already doing to help protect religious minorities, what more 
the U.S. and especially the GOI could be doing to help them, 
and trying to determine what the minorities themselves feel 
they need in order to feel secure and stay in Iraq. Over the 
past few weeks alone a number of senior USG officials have 
traveled up north to meet with Christian, Yezidi, and Shabak 
minority communities. Senior Advisor Ambassador Thomas 
Krajeski has been there twice in recent days, NEA/I Director 
Richard Schmierer just met with minorities in Ninewa province 
and the KRG, and Denise Herbol, acting USAID Director met 
with minority IDPs. 
3. (C) Improving the economy and security are key to 
maintaining the religious minority communities in Iraq. Iraq 
reconstruction money, including USAID funds, are not used to 
provide assistance based on ethnicity or religious 
affiliation ) the money goes where the need is greatest. 
However, USAID, for example, does much work in the northern 
provinces, where most of the religious minorities are 
located, and so their programs directly affect those 
populations. USAID and other USG funding in Ninewa province 
have rehabilitated schools and water treatment plants, 
trained provincial and local government officials, supplied 
vocational and business training and provided small business 
grants, just to name some of the projects. 
4. (C) PRT Ninewa is implementing almost $1 million in QRF 
funds for local projects in economic development, health, 
governance, and civil society, including a religious 
tolerance conference, many of which directly benefit the 
minority populations (ref B). The International Republican 
Institute (IRI) has trained minority Christian groups in 
development of civil society, public policy, and political 
parties as part of its overall programming. However, it has 
been clear from our conversations with minority leaders in 
the north that they do not want assistance focused solely on 
their communities, as they fear that could cause resentment 
from other communities and a comcomitant increase in possible 
terrorist attacks. They are interested in programs that 
encourage community-wide involvement across sectarian and 
ethnic lines (ref A). 
5. (C) The U.S. supports programs in governance, democracy, 
civil society, education, health, and more all over Iraq. 
All these programs contribute in a very basic way to the 
establishment of democracy and rule of law in Iraq. These 
programs affect the religious minorities directly and 
indirectly, as the growth of rule of law throughout the 
country benefits the minorities as the country as a whole 
becomes more stable, more secure, and safer for everyone, 
including the religious minorities. It also enables them to 
seek redress for their grievances as the judicial system and 
the local and national government become more responsive to 
citizens' needs and complaints. 
6. (C) On security, we are closely following the progress of 
the hiring of more Christians into the Iraqi Police (IP) 
force in Ninewa. Of 700 recruited, 500 have been vetted and 
over half of those were judged qualified and will soon begin 
training, a higher than average acceptance percentage. 
Additionally, the IP in Ninewa have been authorized to hire 
approximately 9000 additional police from across all 
communities. We are trying to understand what steps the 
minorities themselves want taken in order to improve 
security, as they are far from united on the issue (ref A). 
Integrating members of religious minorities into the Iraqi 
Security Forces is ultimately the best way to ensure their 
communities' safety. 
The Way Ahead 
7. (C) It is important to remember that while the religious 
minority communities are particularly vulnerable, all Iraqis 
are suffering from fear of sectarian violence, extremism, and 
lack of security. Thus, overall GOI efforts to reduce 
violence and improve security are vital to improving the 
situation of the minority communities. The efforts of PM 
Maliki and his government undertaken over the last two months 
in Basra, Mosul, and Sadr City in retaking areas under the 
sway of religious extremists will, in the long run, be the 
most significant factor in rebuilding a sense of security and 
safety amongst religious minorities in Iraq. 
8. (C) Looking at the immediate future, there are a number of 
actions we should take. Most importantly we need to press 
the GOI and KRG to do more for religious minority populations 
in terms of protecting them, ensuring they are not 
discriminated against in employment, education, or other 
ways, and providing support to their communities. 
Specifically, we plan to proceed as follows: 
-- Raise the issue of the precarious situation of Iraq's 
religious minorities with PM Maliki, President Talabani, the 
two Vice Presidents, and political bloc leaders. We will 
encourage the GOI to make more public statements like PM 
Maliki's strong statement in Mosul in May that stressed that 
Christians are an integral part of Iraq (ref H). As we 
determine what concrete assistance the minority communities 
need from the GOI, we'll press the GOI to take the necessary 
action. PM Maliki is planning a visit to Italy soon; we will 
encourage him to meet with the Pope, as that would send a 
strong signal of inclusiveness and tolerance, and would 
demonstrate that Iraq wants to maintain and protect its 
Christian communities, which together constitute the largest 
non-Muslim religious minority group in the country. 
-- Get KRG PM Nechirvan Barzani and KRG President Massoud 
Barzani focused on the plight of the religious minorities, 
and provide them with concrete suggestions on ways they can 
help the communities. These include promoting better 
integration of minorities into the Iraqi police and army; 
making clear statements that discrimination against religious 
minorities is unacceptable and acknowledging them as an 
integral part of Iraq's multi-ethnic makeup; ensuring that 
harrassment, land takeovers, and other such efforts cease; 
and ensuring that these directions filter down to the mid and 
working levels of the KRG and Peshmerga. We have already 
begun this: Rich Schmierer met with PM Nechirvan Barzani on 
June 12 and raised the problems religious minorities are 
facing; Nechivan promised to explore ways to improve KRG 
assistance to minorities, and RRT Erbil will be following up 
on that (ref J). We will also keep this issue in front of 
other key KRG officials, such as Minister of Interior 
-- Consult further with the religious minority communities to 
see what they feel they need from the KRG and the GOI (refs 
A, J). 
-- Engage with a wide range of interlocutors in Baghdad to 
stress the urgency of the issue and coordinate efforts. 
These include the non-Muslim Endowment, the Papal Nuncio, 
human rights activists, CoR members (minority and other), GOI 
officials, and others who are or should be concerned about 
the issue. 
-- We are rapidly reviewing our assistance programs and 
looking at new proposals that will benefit areas with large 
minority communities. In the immediate term, USAID and PRT 
Ninewa are trying to identify assistance projects that will 
benefit the religious minorities in the region, as well as 
the majority population, an approach that respects both our 
own USG guidelines and the stated preference of the religious 
minority leaders. 
-- We're seeking further understanding of and information 
about the remaining Christian communities in the south 
(Basrah) and in Baghdad. 
Comments On Options Presented in the NSC Paper 
--------------------------------------------- - 
9. (S) We also want to provide some comments in response to 
the NSC paper "Protecting Religious Minorities in Iraq." 
Post has no evidence for the paper's statement that 
"effective NGO and humanitarian assistance efforts in the 
north have been hampered by poor security and Kurdish 
obstruction." USAID has not encountered obstacles in 
delivering its humanitarian and capacity-building assistance 
in the north, nor have NGOs such as IRI and NDI reported any 
problems in being able to work with minority communities in 
the region. 
10. (S) While at least one town, Bartallah, has its own local 
Christian security force, supported by the Peshmerga (ref G), 
the major Christian groups in the north do not want to set up 
Sons of Iraq-type groups; and in fact, the economy, not 
security, seems to be the primary concern of Christian 
leaders there (refs D, J). The suggestion that the Peshmerga 
forces be removed and replaced by army units with minority 
representation is, in the short and medium term, likely only 
to lead to greater insecurity for the minority populations. 
The Peshmerga provide the most effective security for those 
populations right now, despite some anecdotal reports of 
harassment, and should not be removed until adequately 
trained Iraqi police or army forces can take their place. 
Any transition must be careful and gradual. 
11. (S) The suggestion of immediately deploying U.S. civilian 
and military support teams to protect areas with large 
religious minority populations again runs into the question 
of raising the profile of these communities in a way that 
they don't want, and generating resentment towards them that 
could result in terrorist attacks, as several Christian 
interlocutors have said they fear. Integrating religious 
minorities into the local Iraqi police and army is a much 
better way to go. The recruitment of Christians into the 
Iraqi police (as discussed earlier) and army is a good start, 
and Post and PRT Ninewa are following up with local and 
national officials on next steps. 
12. (S) Encouraging formation of a "Federal Unit" in the 
Ninewa region is a bad idea. We have studiously avoided 
taking a position on region formation or the establishment of 
autonomous areas, since a) it's an Iraqi decision; and b) 
there are regions (such as "Shia-stan" in the south ) that we 
would probably rather not see. Encouraging such a region or 
autonomous area in the north would also inevitably have 
repercussions for the sensitive Article 140 discussions 
currently being led by UNAMI. Cardinal Delli, head of the 
Chaldean Church, told us that establishment of such a region 
or autonomous area would probably result in pressure being 
put on Chaldeans living elsewhere to move to "their" region 
-- their neighbors would encourage them to leave. We would 
also not support formation of a university only for religious 
minorities. Iraq has a strong tradition of secular 
education, and as the security situation improves and 
extremist control of some universities weakens, that 
tradition should be maintained. 
13. (S) Christian IDPs appear to be well taken care of when 
compared to other IDP groups (refs A, C), so there does not 
seem to be an immediate humanitarian crisis brewing with them 
(although they do experience economic and educational 
discrimination (ref J)). The suggestion that we press the 
local and national government to enable religious minority 
IDPs to receive their Public Distribution System (PDS) food 
in their area of displacement is a suggestion that should be 
applied equally to all IDPs, not just religious minorities, 
both for reasons of equality and for fear of creating 
resentment towards the minorities. Discouraging large-scale 
resettlement programs outside Iraq takes away a reasonable 
option for Iraqi minorities. While we don't want to 
encourage the exodus of minorities from Iraq, neither should 
we take away their right to choose that action, if they feel 
it is unsafe for them to stay. On the flip side, we should 
encourage return of religious minority -- and other -- 
refugees, but only when conditions warrant it and the 
refugees can return peacefully and safely to their homes. 
However, substantial anecdotal evidence indicates that the 
Christian refugee populations in neighboring countries, 
primarily Syria, are unlikely to want to return to Iraq under 
any conditions. Many have relatives abroad and are seeking 
to join communities already established in Europe and the 
United States. The exodus of Iraqi Christians to the west 
has been accelerated by recent social upheaval and violence, 
but several factors behind it predate the sectarian violence 
and are not unique to Iraq. We should not adopt returns of 
religious minority refugees as a measure of improving 
conditions for minorities as other factors are likely to 
weigh more heavily in their individual decisions. 


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