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WikiLeaks: 2009-06-14: 09BAGHDAD1545: Ambassador Hill Meets with Minority Political Leaders

by WikiLeaks. 09BAGHDAD1545: June 14, 2009.

Posted: Monday, December 30, 2013 at 08:18 PM UT


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Reference ID Created Classification Origin
09BAGHDAD1545 2009-06-14 14:34 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Baghdad
DE RUEHGB #1545/01 1651434
P 141434Z JUN 09
E.O. 12958: N/A 
     B. 2008 BAGHDAD 3506 
     C. BAGHDAD 887 
1.  (SBU)  In their first meeting with Ambassador Hill, 
political representatives of Iraq's minority communities 
focused on the issues of emigration, greater political 
representation, and a perception of societal discrimination, 
subjects which they believed to be mutually reinforcing. 
They attributed worrying rates of minority emigration to 
Western countries to the lack of economic opportunity and 
political representation, not to anti-minority persecution, a 
point Christian religious leaders also made during their 
lunch with the Ambassador the previous day (ref A).  There 
was broad agreement that minority quotas in the national 
elections and the creation of a second chamber of the Iraqi 
Parliament with mandated minority representation could help 
create the perception among minority communities that they 
are an integral part of Iraqi society despite a legal regime 
heavily weighted toward Islam.  The Ambassador stressed the 
importance of finding practical ways to address minorities' 
social, political and economic issues.  End summary. 
Three Issues Emerge 
2.  (SBU)  On June 10, Ambassador Hill hosted a lunch for 10 
political representatives of Iraq's minority communities: 
Minister of Human Rights Wijdan Selim (Chaldean), Minister of 
Industry Fawzi Hariri (Assyrian), Deputy Foreign Minister 
Labid Abbawi (Syriac), MPs Younadan Kanna (Assyrian), Amin 
Farhan (Yezidi), Sadaddin Ergec (Turkmen), and Hunein Qaddo 
(Shabak), advisor to the Prime Minister for Christian Affairs 
Georges Bakoos, and community representatives Matheel 
al-Sabti (Sabean-Mandean) and Abdelrazzaq Abaychi (Bahai). 
The conversation was wide ranging, but three themes 
dominated: the issue of minority emigration, the need for 
institutional mechanisms to ensure greater minority political 
representation, and the belief of minority communities that 
they are suffering discrimination. 
3.  (SBU)  The minority political leaders agreed that the 
emigration of their communities was their most pressing 
concern, although it was notable that the issue of security 
played a minor role in the conversation.  Minister Hariri 
said that in general minorities had fared very badly since 
2003 and that their departure was due to a combination of 
political, economic and security factors.  Hariri said the 
Prime Minister and the government were very conscious of 
minority issues and were willing to do more to stem 
emigration, but that the Parliament had not passed any 
legislation that would give them the financial tools to do 
so.  In contrast, MP Kanna put the blame on liberal 
immigration policies in the United States and Europe, which 
he claimed were "vacuuming up" all of the minorities from 
Iraq.  Poloff noted that most minority emigration had been to 
Western Europe, not the U.S.  Kanna noted that in order for 
minorities to stay in Iraq they needed not only security, but 
jobs as well.  Deputy FM Abbawi added that minorities also 
needed "political acceptance."  The Ambassador told the 
political leaders that the "pull factor" of the economic 
opportunities in the West was a challenge in other countries 
as well, and said he was pleased to hear that the "push 
factor" of persecution was no longer a driver of minority 
emigration.  (Note:  The conversation on emigration mirrored 
almost exactly the Ambassador's discussion with Christian 
religious leaders on June 9 (Ref A).  End note.) 
Political Representation 
QPolitical Representation 
4.  (SBU)  The minority leaders focused on two political 
themes: guaranteed quotas for minorities in the upcoming 
national elections and the creation through the ongoing 
Constitutional amendment process of a second chamber to the 
Iraqi Parliament with mandated minority representation.  With 
respect to election quotas, MPs Kanna and Qaddo noted that 
the drafting of an elections law has not yet begun and that 
there was disagreement on whether there should open or closed 
lists and whether the electoral system should be a single 
national district or 18 governorate districts, as it was in 
BAGHDAD 00001545  002 OF 004 
the 2005 parliamentary elections.  However, Deputy FM Abbawi 
noted that the quota issue was a big concern for minority 
communities and argued that the six seats reserved for 
minorities during the January 2009 provincial elections were 
insufficient and sent a signal to minorities that they were 
unimportant.  Abbawi said he believed that now was an optimal 
time to give minorities greater representation.  Sectarian 
tensions are at a low point, he said, and such a move would 
send a positive signal to minority communities.  Minister 
Hariri seconded this notion, arguing the single biggest 
setback for minorities was the Parliament's Article 50 vote 
(ref B) that gave Christians a single seat in the provincial 
councils of Baghdad, Basra and Ninawah.  Hariri contended it 
would have been better to get no quotas rather than be given 
such a token gesture.  MP Kanna recounted that Arab-Kurd 
tensions -- coupled with fears about creating an unbalanced 
provincial council -- sidetracked a plan for minorities to be 
given seven reserved seats in the Ninawah Provincial Council. 
5. (SBU)  The Ambassador asked the minority leaders about the 
prospects of adding a second, upper chamber to the Iraqi 
Parliament that might function more like the U.S. Senate with 
minority groups exercising greater political power relative 
to their demographic size.  Deputy FM Abbawi said that the 
creation of a second chamber was important as it would have 
the ability to give recommendations even if it had no power 
to initiate legislation.  MP Qaddo agreed that a second 
chamber was desirable, but complained that no one had any 
idea what the Constitutional Review Committee was doing and 
therefore could not comment on any specific proposal.  (Note: 
The Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) has been working 
for the past several years to draft a package of 
constitutional amendments (ref C).  One of these will 
establish an upper house, the Federation Council.  The CRC 
plans to submit its final report to Parliament soon.  Septel 
will report on this effort and the proposed amendments.  End 
6. (SBU)  As part of the discussion of elections and 
political representation, the minority leaders also discussed 
the issue of Kirkuk.  MP Kanna, who represents the Christian 
community on parliament's seven-member "Article 23" Committee 
which is tasked with providing recommendations on how to 
resolve the issue of Kirkuk, stated that the Committee had 
not met its June 1 deadline of submitting recommendations to 
Parliament.  Although its mandate had been extended, the 
Committee had suffered a total breakdown and no consensus 
recommendations were likely to be submitted, he asserted. 
The Ambassador asked how this might affect how the national 
elections take place in Kirkuk.  Minister Hariri stated that 
the Cabinet had approved an Article 140 Commission decision 
in which new residents in the city of Kirkuk would be allowed 
to remain in the city, but would not be able to vote there -- 
this they could do in their place of origin.  Poloff 
acknowledged the thorny political dimensions of the Kirkuk 
issue, but noted that this electoral modality, by which 
certain residents were allowed to choose their provincial 
government and others not, could be seen as inconsistent with 
majoritarian democratic norms. 
7.  (SBU)  Hariri stressed that quotas were essential for the 
Kirkuk Provincial Council in order to move the process 
forward.  MP Kanna said the 32-32-32-4 principle was still in 
play (whereby the Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen each have 32% of 
the seats on the provincial council with Christians taking 
Qthe seats on the provincial council with Christians taking 
the remaining 4%).  The Prime Minister's advisor for 
Christian Affairs, Georges Bakoos, maintained that there was 
insufficient political support for that idea.  The Ambassador 
noted that in the U.S., Congressional districts are redrawn 
every 10 years based on census results, a process that 
generally ensures that migration is factored into political 
8. (SBU)  The minority leaders also discussed what they 
viewed as examples of discrimination toward their 
communities.  At the top of the list was the complaint that a 
Saddam-era law that requires the conversion of minor children 
to Islam in the event that one of their parents should 
convert remains on the books.  MP Kanna claimed he knew of 
2,000 cases in which minor children had had their religion 
changed to Muslim and now could not change it back to 
Christianity.  Minister Hariri said that there were at least 
10,000 such cases.  Minister of Human Rights Selim told the 
BAGHDAD 00001545  003 OF 004 
Ambassador that she had raised this issue, not for the first 
time, in a letter to the Judicial Council, but had been 
rebuffed. She said she planned to continue to press the 
issue.  Selim warned that Iraq was moving toward being an 
exclusively Islamic country, pointing out that while 
parliament decided to remove Baathist symbols from the Iraqi 
flag, Muslim religious conservatives have prevented the 
removal of the words "God is Great."  Georges Bakoos pointed 
to a recent debate in Parliament over whether to ban alcohol 
in Iraq as further evidence of cultural discrimination. 
Several MPs also raised the contradictions inherent in the 
Constitution's Article 2, which says no law shall violate the 
principles of Islam and also that no law shall violate the 
principles of democracy and the rights and basic freedoms 
stipulated in the Constitution.  The MPs also noted that some 
religious and ethnic minorities, including Shabaks and 
Bahais, are not identified by name as "official" minorities 
in the Constitution. 
9.  (SBU)  Acknowledging the importance of minority rights 
and identity, the Ambassador noted that the U.S. government 
also sometimes uses religious symbols (e.g., on our 
currency), and that the Iraqi government's use of 
Muslim-majority religious symbols and messages such as "God 
is Great" on the flag is not inherently anti-minority.  He 
said that Iraq is not alone in trying to balance tradition 
and maintaining national identity with the civil requirements 
of democracy.  This is a conversation many countries are 
10. (SBU)  The minority leaders were also critical of Iraq's 
continuous focus on the trilateral relations between Sunnis, 
Shias and Kurds to the exclusion of minorities.  Minister 
Hariri said that the larger ethnic groups always treated any 
job given to a minority as a favor done to the group rather 
than being based on merit.  Minister Selim told the 
Ambassador that minorities had been excluded from the recent 
creation of a de-Baathification Committee because they "had 
not suffered during the reign of Saddam."  They missed the 
point, she said:  a body set up to foster national 
reconciliation must be representative of the entire country. 
Hariri also quickly pointed out that the assertion that 
minorities had not suffered under Saddam was also wrong:  "We 
all suffered."  Abbawi said that there needed to be a shift 
in focus from the Sunni-Shia-Kurd paradigm.  "Iraq is a 
rectangle, not a triangle," he said.  The Ambassador agreed 
that the Iraqi political landscape was much more complex than 
Shia-Sunni-Kurd.  He stressed the need for Iraqis now to 
transcend sectarian orientations and focus instead on 
creating a multi-cultural, civic Iraqi identity. 
11. (SBU)  Both of the MPs representing the Yezidis and the 
Turkmen complained to the Ambassador that their communities 
had been the victims of human rights abuses since 2003 from 
the Kurds, who had entered their traditional areas.  Yezidi 
MP Farhan argued for an autonomous region in the north where 
minorities could govern themselves and protect themselves 
with their own security forces.  Both MPs along with Shabak 
MP Qaddo were concerned about the national census scheduled 
in October, claiming that their communities could be put 
under pressure to declare themselves to belong to a different 
ethnic or religious group than they really were.  (Note: 
Many Kurds insist that Shabaks are Kurds.  End note.)  The 
Bahai representative, Abdelrazzaq Abaychi, explained that 
Bahais are currently registered as Muslim on their national 
ID cards and requested the Ambassador's support in helping 
QID cards and requested the Ambassador's support in helping 
the Bahai community's efforts to implement an MOI directive 
that allows them to change "Muslim" to "Bahai."  He said the 
MOI directive is not being implemented because the legal 
advisor in the Directorate of Nationality and Passports has 
determined that such a change is tantamount to the holders' 
changing their religion from Muslim to Bahai, and it is 
illegal to convert from Islam to another religion.  The 
Ambassador noted that we have raised this issue at the 
Ministry of Interior and would do so again.  He also noted 
that while this was his first meeting with minority political 
representatives, it was by no means his last.  This was a 
conversation that will continue. 
Christian Conference 
12. (SBU)  Minister Hariri told the Ambassador that the Prime 
Minister was interested in holding a conference in Baghdad to 
review the status of Christians and other minorities in Iraq. 
 He said that the idea was still in its infancy, but that 
there was a lot of concern in the minority community about 
whether such a conference would be effective in generating 
momentum to address minority concerns.  The Ambassador 
emphasized that the timing of such a conference would need to 
BAGHDAD 00001545  004 OF 004 
be calibrated to ensure effective political follow-up. 
Poloff suggested that such a conference would be most 
effective if it were preceded by several months of minority 
collaboration to hammer out a common political agenda and 
concrete steps the government could take to advance their 
interests.  The conference could then be used to spotlight 
and catalyze government action on this minority action plan. 
13.  (SBU)  The minority political leaders' strong concern 
about their diminishing numbers due to emigration to the 
West, and their laying the blame for this on liberal Western 
emigration rules and greater economic opportunity in Europe 
and the U.S. -- but not, significantly, on persecution -- is 
consistent with what we've been hearing from other minority 
contacts, both in Baghdad and the KRG.  We will continue to 
urge our minority contacts to put aside their differences and 
work together to develop a political action plan that 
advances issues of common concern.  The Christian conference 
was originally proposed in the summer of 2008.  Despite our 
follow up with Selim, Abbawi, and Hariri last year, the 
conference idea lost momentum.  We are encouraged that Hariri 
raised it with the Ambassador.  We will again follow up. 


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