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WikiLeaks: 2008-08-27: 08BAGHDAD2751: Ninewa: A Christian Community Considers its Future in a Muslim Majority Country and in the Shadow of the Babylonian Captivity

by WikiLeaks. 08BAGHDAD2751: August 27, 2008.

Posted: Sunday, September 08, 2013 at 05:25 PM UT


Viewing cable 08BAGHDAD2751, NINEWA: A CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY CONSIDERS ITS FUTURE

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Reference ID Created Classification Origin
08BAGHDAD2751 2008-08-27 07:27 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Baghdad
VZCZCXRO9688
RR RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHIHL RUEHKUK
DE RUEHGB #2751/01 2400727
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 270727Z AUG 08
FM AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 9078
INFO RUCNRAQ/IRAQ COLLECTIVE
RHMFISS/HQ USEUCOM VAIHINGEN GE
RHMFISS/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BAGHDAD 002751 
 
SIPDIS 
 
C O R R E C T E D C O P Y (PAR MARK CORRECTED) 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/27/2018 
TAGS: KIRF PGOV PHUM KDEM IZ
SUBJECT: NINEWA: A CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY CONSIDERS ITS FUTURE 
IN A MUSLIM MAJORITY COUNTRY AND IN THE SHADOW OF THE 
BABYLONIAN CAPTIVITY 
 
BAGHDAD 00002751  001.2 OF 002 
 
 
Classified By: Ninewa PRT Leader Alex Laskaris: Reasons 1.4 b&d 
 
This is a Ninewa Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) message. 
 
1.  (C) Summary: Two prominent Assyrian Christian leaders in 
Tel Kaif district told the PRT they want to remain a part of 
Ninewa Province, believing that the KRG is increasingly 
authoritarian, likely to split on tribal lines, and more 
prone to Islamic extremism than is currently apparent.  By 
chance, we also met an Assyrian Christian peshmerga with a 
KDP identity card who asserted that Christians would be 
better off under the KRG.  We saw new construction in Al Qosh 
funded by KRG Minister of Finance Sarkis Aghajan, and spent 
time with Christians with a far more tolerant view of Islam 
than some of their brethren.  Finally, we met an old man who 
remembered his Jewish neighbors and still keeps the key to a 
long-abandoned synagogue.  End Summary. 
 
Relations with the KRG 
---------------------- 
 
2.  (C) On August 18, PRT leader traveled to Al Qosh, Tel 
Kaif district and met the mayor and high ranking member of 
the Assyrian Democratic Movement (ADM) Basim Bello.  Mayor 
Bello was joined by fellow ADM member Sargon Nimrud, who runs 
Ashor Television.  The reason for the trip was to discuss 
outreach to local NGOs, both in Al Qosh and its nearest 
neighbor, a Yezidi village some five miles away.  Al Qosh 
lies in Ninewa Province, but is located in an area under the 
control of the KRG. 
 
3.  (C) Like most of our Assyrian interlocutors, Bello 
asserted that the Assyrians were the original inhabitants of 
the Ninewa Plain.  He stressed, however, that his community 
had always enjoyed good relations with Muslims, emphasizing 
that he and most of the Assyrians understood the distinction 
between true believers in the faith and the violent 
extremists.  Bello observed that all religions, including his 
own, have radical elements.  Bello maintained that the 
Christians of the Ninewa Plain had always supported the 
Kurds, saying that the ADM fought with the Kurdish parties 
against Saddam.  Bello also said that the ADM worked as de 
facto peacekeepers between the PUK and KDP during the 
fighting of 1995-6, when the KDP and Iraqi army elements 
expelled the PUK from Erbil. 
 
4.  (C) According to Bello, the rift between the ADM and the 
Kurdish parties began in 2003 as the KRG attempted to expand 
its political control further into Christian areas of the 
Ninewa plain.  Bello said the KRG is following a policy of 
encroachment into the Ninewa plain by attempting to establish 
&facts on the ground8 by moving Kurds into Christian areas; 
 stacking district and sub district councils with un-elected 
Kurdish members; and, in the case of Al Qosh, spending 
lavishly, particularly on church and church-related 
construction. 
 
5.  (C) Bello had raised the issue of &stacking8 district 
and sub-district councils with us the previous week.  His own 
personal security aside -- he believes he is under direct 
threat from the senior leadership of the KDP -- Bello said 
his greatest concern is the prospect of irreversible 
modifications to councils that would give the KRG political 
control to go along with its effective occupation of the 
area.  He said the KRG is acting in violation of the 2008 
Provincial Powers Law by adding seats to existing councils. 
In Hamdaniya, he said two KRG supporters have been added to 
the council:  Hana Elyas (PUK) and Faiel Jar-alla Hamo (KDP). 
 In Bartalla sub-district, Bello said the KRG has supported 
the addition of four new members, a Kurd, an Assyrian and two 
Sunnis.  The Assyrian is reportedly the uncle of Fr. Ayman 
Dana, a prominent Bartalla cleric who supports the KDP.  As 
we drove through Al Qosh, Bello pointed out buildings under 
construction:  a convent dormitory, a headquarters for the 
church administration, and renovations of churches, all paid 
for he said by Aghajan. 
 
6.  (C) Bello also raised continuing Kurdish intimidation, 
including a personal threat made against him by the KRG Prime 
Minister Nechirvan Barzani.  Bello explained what he sees as 
an increasingly bellicose KRG policy as the result of the 
Kurds, desire not to lose what was gained in terms of 
self-rule after the first Gulf War.  As a result, there is an 
ongoing trend toward authoritarianism in the KRG, according 
to Bello, adding that the Kurds are a highly tribalized 
society, prone to in-fighting and more Islamic extremism than 
was currently apparent.  He said that, radicals 
notwithstanding, there is greater tolerance for the Christian 
faith among Iraqi Arabs than among Iraqi Kurds. 
 
BAGHDAD 00002751  002.2 OF 002 
 
 
 
7.  (C) We found at least one Assyrian who believed Al Qosh 
would be better off as a part of the KRG.  We met an Assyrian 
Christian, an elderly man dressed in full Kurdish regalia, 
who invited us into his house and insisted on showing us the 
bullet holes in his arm and feeling the shrapnel embedded in 
the base of his skull ) all wounds sustained during his 
service as a peshmerga.  He even showed us his KDP identity 
document.  We did not know what to make of the man dressed 
like a Kurd, but with a living room filled with images of 
Christ, the Pope, the Barzanis and Cardinal Delly. 
Afterwards, Bello explained that, Kurdish fashion ensemble 
notwithstanding, he was an Assyrian Christian and ) he added 
) a traitor. 
 
Central Government a Non-entity in Al Qosh 
------------------------------------------ 
 
8.  (C) Bello also gave some background on the new Minister 
of Communication, Faroukh Abd al-Qader.  According to Bella, 
Faroukh is from Mosul and has a reputation for honesty and 
effectiveness dating back to the Saddam Hussein era.  Bella 
noted, however, that both Farouk and his Iraqi Islamic Party 
have radical tendencies.  Bello said Farouk was well-known in 
Ninewa as a competent civil servant, adding that he would 
await results from the new special envoy from the office of 
the Prime Minister before deciding which aspect of his 
background would be dispositive. 
 
Echoes of a Vanished Religious Minority 
--------------------------------------- 
 
9.  (C) While on the subject of the future viability of 
religious minorities, we asked Bello if there ever had been a 
Jewish community in Al Qosh.  He said that there had been a 
community before his time, and that there was an old 
synagogue in the town.  We took him up on his offer to show 
us the building, which is in very bad shape, but as a result 
of neglect and the passage of time rather than vandalism. 
There was a sarcophagus in the center of the temple, covered 
by one of the last parts of the stone roof still standing. 
Inside, we were told, were the remains of a notable rabbi, 
the son of parents taken from Jerusalem by Assyrians.  (Note: 
 Some scholars believe that the prophet Nahum, one of two 
sent to punish Ninewa is buried in Al Qosh. The other is 
Jonah, whose tomb is -- according to legend -- in Mosul.) 
 
10.  (C) An old Assyrian man approached us outside the 
synagogue and offered to unlock the bolt on the front door. 
He said that he was 75 years old, and remembered the Jewish 
families of the neighborhood from his youth.  He recited 
their names and a couple words of Hebrew, and told us that a 
few years ago, a descendent of Al Qosh's Jewish community had 
returned to see his father's village.  From that traveler, 
the old man learned that all but two of the 85 people who 
left in the aftermath of the 1948 Israeli war of independence 
were now deceased. 
 
11.  (C) Comment:  Bello is one of the few overtly anti-KRG 
leaders living in KRG-controlled areas of Ninewa Province. 
As such, we assume he is indeed under threat.  We will follow 
his security closely, raising it with our interlocutors as 
necessary.  One of the real challenges to our work is that we 
alone appear to acknowledge that reasonable people could 
disagree on something so complicated as relations with the 
KRG.  Even Bello, who we find to be a calm and reasonable 
interlocutor, ascribes the basest of motives to those who 
disagree with him.  When we asked him why the Christian 
community cannot simply agree to disagree, he said, "in that, 
we're all Iraqis." 
 
12.  (C) The abandoned and crumbling synagogue was a 
startling reminder of the fact that religious minorities - of 
any faith - are at risk in Iraq.  It was heartening to hear 
an old man say "shalom" and recite the names of his boyhood 
friends ) Moshe, Itzakh, etc...  - but sobering to know that 
that knowledge will not outlive him.  We will try to interest 
the provincial government, UNESCO and NGOs in the synagogue; 
it too is a piece of Iraq's national patrimony and diverse 
religious heritage worth preserving.  End Comment. 
BUTENIS

 



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