Iraq: Bleak Future for Nineweh Minorities
By Sahar al-Haideri in Mosul (ICR No. 225, 29-June-07)
number of communities say they face constant threats
and political marginalisation.
Mosul, Northern Iraq
The blood of Nasir Abdullah Khalil, 55, seeped into
a pool of milk as it drained from his body. The
walls of his dairy shop in Mosul's al-Darkazliyyah
neighbourhood were spattered with blood, and yoghurt
and milk had leaked all over the floor.
According to the police report filed on his case,
Khalil was shot to death on January 13, 2007,
because he was from one of Iraq's smallest minority
groups: the Shabaks.
"It is not only the Christians that are targeted;
the Shabaks are as well," said Hamid Abdullah, who
works in another al-Darkazliyyah dairy. "Hardly a
week passes without a Shabak or two or even three
Most of the country's ethnic and religious groups -
including Sunni Arabs, Kurds, Yezidis, Turkomans,
Assyrians, Shabaks, and Shia Arabs - are represented
in the volatile Nineweh province of north-west Iraq,
one of the most violent in
Once a Baathist stronghold and now a centre for
extremist organisations such as al-Qaeda, Nineweh
has experienced widespread sectarian bloodletting
since 2003, with ethnic and religious minorities
IWPR has investigated the security and political
problems facing three of Nineweh's minority groups -
the Shabaks, Yezidis and Kurds.
The origin of the Shabaks is unclear, but they are
one of Iraq's smallest minority groups. Hunain al-Qaddo,
who served as a Shabak representative in the Iraqi
Transitional National Assembly in 2005, claims there
are around 400,000 of them in Nineweh.
Shabaks do not consider themselves Arab or Kurd, and
their language - Shabaki - is a mixture of Kurdish,
Arabic, Farsi and Turkish. Seventy per cent are Shia
and the rest Sunni, according to al-Qaddo, although
many researchers say that Shabaks have a unique
religion that's largely based on Islam.
Despite strained relations between Shabaks and the
Kurdistan Democratic Party, KDP, in eastern Nineweh,
near the border with Iraqi Kurdistan, the
deteriorating security situation in Mosul has
prompted some local Shabaks to call for the Kurdish
Regional Government to administer areas where they
"We asked the Kurdistan region to annex our areas
and villages to protect us," said Mahmood Kadhim, a
Shabak civil servant. "Officials in Mosul don't
value human lives and Shabaks are deliberately
Annexation is not supported by all Shabaks, however.
The KDP has been accused of trying to co-opt the
community and other groups since 2003 in order to
gain political power in Nineweh.
Tensions between the KDP and the minority in the
east of the region reached a pitch in 2005, when the
party's security forces opened fire on demonstrators
calling for separate political representation for
Shabaks, injuring several of them.
Moreover, Assyrian media reported that the KDP
disenfranchised Shabaks, Assyrians, Turkoman and
Yezidis during the 2005 elections by not providing
enough ballot boxes in their areas.
Kamal Khidir, 23, quit his studies at Mosul
University and moved back to his home in Sinjar,
after Islamic groups began circulating death threats
against his religious sect, the Yezidis.
"I don't want to lose my life at Mosul University,
which is considered a den for the most dangerous
Islamic groups," he said.
Muslim extremists have acquired considerable power
at Mosul University. Islamic courses are held so
frequently that the university seems more like a
mosque than an institute of learning.
The authorities have quietly sat by as minorities,
including Yezidis, have been threatened at the
Wathiq Muhammed Abdul-Qadir al-Hemdani, the Neinewa
police chief, said he was aware of the situation but
would not interfere.
"I have solid information on the terrorist
organisations inside the university," he said.
"However, I respect the university campus and
therefore, I cannot arrest them."
"I quit," said Atto Sa'ed, 45, a former lecturer at
Mosul University and a Yezidi. "I'm going to get out
of Iraq and go to any country where Yezidis are not
killed. Here in Mosul, Yezidi blood is cheap and no
one defends their rights."
The Neinewa police authorities have records of a
number of killings of Yezidis by extremist groups.
The Yezidis are ethnic Kurds who practice a unique
religion that incorporates elements of ancient
faiths such as Zoroastrianism, as well as drawing on
Islam and Christianity. Dismissed by some as
"devil-worshippers", the community has coped with
such misperceptions by keeping themselves to
themselves, while seeking not to antagonise other
communities. Nonetheless, they were persecuted under
Saddam and are now targeted by Islamic groups.
Yezidi-Sunni tensions rose earlier this year when a
17-year-old Yezidi girl was
stoned to death by members of her own
community after she reportedly converted to Islam
and planned to marry a Muslim.
Yezidi workers were later killed in Mosul,
with the extremist group the Islamic State of Iraq
claiming responsibility for the killings.
Kurdish-Yezidi relations have also been strained.
Many Kurdish leaders consider Yezidis Kurds and want
to corral them into Kurdish political parties.
Although they fought alongside Kurdish forces, many
Yezidis insist that they have a unique identity and
want separate representation.
"Despite substantial Yezidi sacrifices in the
Kurdistan liberation movement, which were no less
significant than those of their Kurdish brothers,
the [Kurdish] parties play with the Yezidis and
their fate," said Karam Zedo, a 40-year-old Yezidi
"Unfortunately, when many of the [Kurdish] parties
and even political [leaders] do something for the
Yezidis, they consider it a favour - not a patriotic
duty for their fellow citizens who suffered much
injustice and persecution."
Tensions between Kurds and Yezidis erupted in April
when hundreds of Yezidi rioters attacked the KDP
offices in the towns of Khana Sor and Jazira, west
of Mosul, pulling down and burning the Kurdish flag.
Khairiyyah Sa'ed, 51, wasn't intended to be the
target. Extremists had planned to kill her husband,
according to senior Mosul police officer Mahmood al-Jubouri.
"The insurgents knocked at her door, thinking that
her husband would come out as he usually did," said
Jubouri. "But he unexpectedly went out earlier that
day, so his wife was shot instead."
Jubouri insists that her husband was targeted
because he was a Kurd.
As KDP power has grown in Nineweh since 2003,
Kurdish citizens and officials have been threatened
and systematically targeted for assassination.
Leaflets demanding that Kurds leave have also been
distributed in Kurdish neighbourhoods, such as Adan,
The New York Times recently reported that about
70,000 Kurds have been driven out of the province,
although a US military official said it was
difficult to determine if they were Kurds or other
Many Kurds from Nineweh have fled to Iraqi
Much hostility has been directed at local Kurds
because Nineweh provincial council is
Kurdish-dominated, in part because Sunni Arab
politicians and voters have largely boycotted
elections. The International Crisis Group warned in
2005 that "the formation of a Kurdish-dominated
provincial council in Nineweh would entail minority
rule and likely give rise to sectarian fighting".
Arabs resent the KDP flexing its political muscle in
the region and claim Kurdish officials are buying
land with the aim of turning Mosul into a Kurdish
"They consider Mosul their city, and we are guests
in it," said Amir, a local Arab resident. "It's time
that the leaflets [threatening Kurds] were stopped."
Nineweh deputy governor Khasraw Goran, a Kurd, said
the leaflets were a larger part of a campaign to
drive Kurds out of Mosul. "These tactics do not
scare us," he said.
IWPR reporter Sahar al-Haideri was murdered in
Mosul in June 2007.
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