Iraq’s Religious, Ethnic Minorities Disappearing Due to ISIS Violence and Global Inaction

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July 5, 2016; Newsweek

As a UN report indicated several weeks ago, the Yazidi religious minority in Iraq has been decimated in what the UN has officially recognized as a genocide committed by ISIS militants. However, 13 years of war in Iraq has not left the country’s other minorities untouched. Just days after an ISIS suicide bomb killed over 200 civilians in a predominantly Shi’a neighborhood, a new report by a coalition of nonprofit humanitarian groups has found that the populations of Iraq’s minority groups, including Christians, Shabak, Kaka’i, as well as the Yazidi, have drastically decreased in the two years since the emergence of ISIS.

Minority Rights Group International, Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization, Institute for International Law and Human Rights, and No Peace Without Justice released the report on Monday, which found “many minority communities in Iraq are now on the verge of disappearance.”

The report documents the declining population of minorities since the start of the Iraq War in 2003, including the acts committed by ISIS starting in 2014. According to the report, in the past two years, the population of Christians in Iraq has decreased from 1.4 million in 2003 to less than 250,000. The Yazidi people, numbered 700,000 in 2005, have fallen to 500,000. The Kaka’i, followers of the Yarsani faith, and the Yazidi have both been driven out of their homelands in Ninewa in northern Iraq. Moreover, the Shi’a Turkmen, a Turkish ethnic minority, and the Shabak people, the majority of which are Shi’a, have also fled to Shi’a majority areas in the southern Iraq. ISIS does not believe Shi’a Muslims are true Muslims. Shi’a Muslims make up the majority of Muslims in Iraq, but are in the minority of all Muslims worldwide.

“Thirteen years of war have had devastating long-term consequences for Iraqi society,” said Mark Lattimer, the executive director of Minority Rights Group International, in a statement. “The impact on minorities has been catastrophic. Saddam was terrible; the situation since is worse. Tens of thousands of religious and ethnic minorities have been killed and millions have fled for their lives.”

The report was published only a day after ISIS bombed a crowded shopping center in Baghdad in an effort to specifically target Shi’a Muslims, illustrating in real time the destructive impact of ISIS on Iraq’s minorities. As seen in minorities throughout the country, Baghdad residents were outraged the Iraqi government had failed to keep checkpoints secure, the failure of which allowed in large amounts of explosives, resulting in the catastrophic attack.

The report goes further to hold the larger humanitarian community responsible as well for its lack of action. According to the report:

There appears to be no serious Iraqi or international effort to build the political, social and economic conditions for the sustainable return of those who lost homes and livelihoods as a result of the conflict. Militias and unscrupulous local authorities are exploiting this vacuum. Consequently, there is a lack of trust that the government, regional actors, local officials, or the international community will provide the necessary support to facilitate returns, locate missing persons, provide justice, facilitate the difficult process of reconciliation and ensure the return of looted possessions and homes. The result will be another Iraqi lost generation, radicalized by homelessness and depredation, repeating the cycle that created ISIS.

As such, the report makes 54 recommendations for both the Iraqi government and global community, including increasing emergency relief to displaced families, providing assistance and treatment for sexual assault victims, referring mass murders to the International Court, and accepting Iraqi refugees fleeing from persecution. To prevent the current crisis from repeating itself, however, would require taking on and successfully extinguishing the threat of ISIS.—Shafaq Hasan