Thursday, January 20, 2011

Christmas: Grim in Baghdad, Safe& Happy in Kurdistan

Report By Karokh Nuraddin
As terror forced Iraqi Christians to cancel most masses and Christmas celebrations, the story of Christians living in the Kurdistan region of Iraq was different.
“Christmas is a joyful event; our religion urges us for being happy and spreading happiness,” said Ano Jawhar, a journalist based in Ainkawa, a Christian stronghold in Iraqi Kurdistan.

In a festive atmosphere, Ainkawa’s churches, streets were decked with bright lights and large Christmas trees. Groups of children including those coming from Baghdad were seen arm-in-arm on the streets waiting for Santa Clause to come and hand out gifts.

At the entrance of Ainkawa town, trees and walls are lightened in various colors; the Churches were full of prayers and celebrators on Christmas night. 
The KRG has spent 142 million ID (nearly $113600) on Christmas and New Year celebrations for the town, according to Ferhad Marbin, head of Ainkawa’s Municipality.

 Less than 200 miles away from here is Baghdad where a deadly attack on October 31 resulted in the death of more than 50 people in a church after a few armed men took the worshipers hostage and shot them. 

Since then threats have been continuous and, in turn, a steady exodus of Christians has begun of whom there have been hundreds of families coming here to the semiautonomous region of Kurdistan in Northern in Iraq. 

 “We will spend an amount of this budget in buying gifts for the kids of the fled families, to limit their grief and depression” said Marbin, referring to the necessity of delivering more aids for those families.”

Large number of these Christians, however, now find unemployed, and are either with no accommodation, sharing houses with their relatives, of in houses in affluent Ainkawa which they can hardly afford, as reported by the IRIN, United Nation’s Humanitarian News Agency. 

The recent months have been the toughest for the Iraqi Christians, which made them not to think about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ on Dec. 25, as they have been doing in the past. In Baghdad and Mosul, the mourns of Christians are still heard for the violence they face on daily basis. 

 “I am not going to celebrate Christmas this year,” said Abu Yousuf Yaqub, who had fled Mosul three years ago and found refuge in Ainkawa. “I want to share grievance of Baghdad’s Christians.”
 “Mosul is a very conservative place, the people there consider the Christians infidels,” he said. 

Yaqub’s son would have die, if he stayed in Mosul and refused to help the insurgents in buying arms, and funding them.
“We are not ready to sell our dignity, we left our home with only few belongings and we headed to Kurdistan,” said Abu Yusuf.

Since after the slaughter of the Baghdad Church, many Christians have decided not to celebrate Christmas this year, both in fear of more attacks, and for showing their grievance. 

“Of course they wouldn’t celebrate, those people’s hearts are broken,” said Jawhar.  
But Jawhar said that the coexistence between the Kurds and the Christians is “unique” in the Middle East, suggesting, “Erbil is more secure than Cairo for Christians.”

 This report was published in IKP-magazine, issue 17, Jan. 2011

Iraq’s Ironic Democracy

In a country where a genuine democracy has never existed, the post-Saddam Iraq’s democracy looks ironic. The people’s say is ignored, their rulers are imposed by U.S. and Iran and regional powers.

After the establishment of the Iraqi state by Churchill in the 1920s, King Faisal, a non-Iraqi Sunni, was brought to rule the country. He was from the Hashemite Dynasty in Saudi Arabia. This resulted in undermining the Shiite majority in the south, and forcibly annexing the Kurds of the north to the newborn state. Until 2003, no regimes were democratically elected in Iraq.

Literally defining democracy, the word is derived from two Greek words. Demo-people and Kratia-rule, which means people’s rule. In democratic countries, people vote to elect the party that will rule for next four or five years. But in Iraq’s recent elections, people’s vote did not, and will be unlikely to, produce that result. Iraq’s new government, after 8-month of political stalemate, is a product of a struggle between the US and Iran. Without elections, we would have a similar US-Iran-made government.

The Sunni-backed Iraqiya coalition, headed by Iyad Allawi, won most seats, two seats ahead of the Prime Minister Nuri Maliki’s State of Law bloc. The Iraqi National Alliance, a Shiite bloc, came third with 70 seats. The Kurds came forth with 57 seats.

After the election results were revealed, Iran felt much threatened that the Sunnis may come back to power after their bloc had slightly finished first. The US, however, liked the results believing in the likelihood of less Iranian influence on a new Iraqi government, which will oversee the withdrawal of US forces next year.
Thus, an Iran-US contest began to shape Iraq’s new government. This contest lasted 8 months, led to an upsurge in violence and the deaths of 764 Iraqi civilians.

Iran finally became ascendant. It prevented the secular leader Allawi from forming a new government. Allawi has been promised to lead a strategic council that nobody knows how powerful it might be. Allawi himself does not seem to want that. What is more, Iran also reconciled two most rival Shiite parties of Iraq, Maliki’s State of Law and the Sadrists, further strengthening its hand in Iraqi politics. The anti-American Sadrist group, 40 seats, used to militarily fight with Maliki’s government in Baghdad and Basra.  But its support to Maliki was as deceive to kill Allawi’s hopes to come to power as threatening to the United States interests. It’s leader now studies religion in Iran. The White House has openly spoken out against the threats that this group poses on its interests, warning Iraqis not to allow them leading sensitive positions like security and intelligence ones.

Iran has historically had unhappy stories with Sunnis. Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Iraqi dictator, waged an eight-year long war against Iran following the Islamic revolution that unseated Mohammed Raza Shah in 1979.

The US, for its part, used its utmost capacity to ensure a good participation of the Sunnis and Kurds in the government to counterbalance the Shiite domination of Iraq. “The U.S. is therefore working with its long-time Iraqi ally, Iyad Allawi, in a desperate effort to assemble an alternative coalition that would keep out Iran and the Sadrists as much as possible.” said Ranj Alaaldin in a column to the Guardian.

An Iraqi initiative by Massoud Barzani, president of Kurdistan, finally ended the US-Iran political strugg
le over determining Iraq’s key posts. But this struggle lasts unknowingly longer and still has the possibility to produce another political crisis after Eid as Iraq’s ethnic and sectarian groups start struggling to control best ministerial and state portfolios. Maliki has “constitutionally” less than one month left to form a government.

The Kurds are unlikely to agree to get less than what they had in the previous four years. In the key ministries, they are looking to lead at least either Ministry Foreign Affairs, Finance or Oil. The Sunnis and Shiites are also struggling for these positions as well. Maliki’s group has already warned Sunnis and Kurds that the two ministries of Defense and Interior will be headed by independent people.  Who is independent in Iraq? This is by all means one of the most difficult questions to answer in a politicized country.

Iraq’s recent developments have essentially showed that the democracy building- process in Iraq is hindered by many factors, beginning from U.S., Iran and other neighboring country’s interventions who are attempting to impose their influence and challenge the Iraqis’ voice. Moreover, these interventions have resulted in creating mistrust among the Iraqis, preventing them from forming a government that is able to stabilize the country and provide basic services for the people. One now might rethink whether democracy is ultimately a good answer to Iraq?

Karokh Nuraddin is the managing editor of the International Kurdish Press (IKP), an English-language magazine in Kurdistan. 

 This op-ed was published in