Cover Story

Binding up the wounds of war

"Binding up the wounds of war" Continued...

Issue: "Survivors," Sept. 29, 2007

Emanuel Youkhana, an Assyrian priest and director of the Iraqi-German humanitarian aid organization CAPNI, called the report "totally misinformed." Youkhana, whose group runs a mobile medical clinic and other projects in villages across the region, told WORLD, "This is not paradise, but in this part of the world it's very easy to get enemies when what we need are friends. Iraqi Kurdistan is proving it can be a model for religious freedom starting in Iraq, and it needs to be supported."

USCIRF communications director Judith Ingram acknowledged, "We do know there is some dispute over these reports," and the commission held another set of hearings Sept. 19 on Iraq.

Area pastors also dispute the wisdom of creating a Christian enclave to protect minorities in the region. Pastor Yussuf Matty believes it would simply make Christians a bigger target for militant Islamists. And he has been successful in registering three schools in cities in the north that operate as Christian schools with student bodies-now numbering over 1,000-made up largely of Muslims. "What we tell the Kurdish officials is we want to work hand in hand with Kurdish Muslims, we want to live with you but not at the edge of life. We want to be at the heart of Kurdistan, and we want to work hard for the good of the community."

The USCIRF report also cites discrimination against Christians and land disputes in Nineveh Plain. But in En Baqr the government has built 31 new houses for displaced Chaldean families from Mosul and Baghdad. In Karanjo, CAPNI is finishing a church and rows of new houses are going up.

Nineveh Plain falls within Baghdad's administrative zone, and while it includes Kurdish, Armenian, Yezedi, and historic Christian villages, it has not seen the same level of progress as Kurdish-administrated villages further north. Problems and need remain for the estimated 4,500 displaced families there (one in four families of the total population).

In Germawa, former Baghdad resident Boutros Simon said three families are living in his new two-bedroom house because there is not enough housing in the village. Some of the new houses lack water and electricity. The 22 children in the village go to school in Al Kush, about 15 miles away. While there is farming in the area, most of the newly displaced don't have jobs. Simon receives about $100 a month in government stipend, like other displaced families who register with the government-not enough to support everyone under his roof. At current prices, a tank of gas in northern Iraq can cost nearly $100.

Simon said it will take years to sort out land claims all over the north, given Saddam Hussein's repeated purges of minority communities. He denied reports in the United States of land disputes locking out the Assyrian Christians who return to Nineveh Plain: "Village councils can present their cases to the government, and we are working to provide housing for everyone who comes here."

When Rehana returned to Bereka he found his family's land farmed by a Kurd under a 10-year lease with the local governorate. Without going to court, he and other returnees worked out an arrangement allowing the Kurd to complete the two years remaining on his lease before turning the land over to the Assyrian returnees.

Simon believes the economic picture will improve in Nineveh province if the area were to come under KRG control. That could happen if a referendum extending the Kurdish autonomous region as far south as Mosul and Kirkuk, encompassing Nineveh Plain, takes place. Under Iraq's new constitution, the referendum is to be scheduled before the end of 2007. But due to violence in Mosul and Kirkuk, and the debate over allocating oil revenues from the area, it's likely to be postponed. In the meantime, Simon-speaking for a surprising number of the displaced-says he longs for the day when it's safe enough to return to Baghdad.

On the cover

Danny arrived in a village in Nineveh Plain earlier this year with his mother, father, and older sister. They escaped Mosul after 8-year-old Danny was captured by militants on a spring day. Danny fought his captors for 15 minutes, drawing his sister's attention. When she ran to his aid, the armed and masked kidnappers shot at her but missed. She ran to her home and alerted her parents but it was too late. A ransom demand soon followed, and Danny's father (he asked that the family name not be used) negotiated the amount down to $750, a sum he had to borrow. After Danny was released, the masked men let neighbors know they would come after the daughter next, and the family took shelter in a new government home in the north-where life is hard, jobs are scarce, and the children stick closer than ever to their parents.

Mindy Belz
Mindy Belz

Mindy travels to the far corners of the globe as the editor of WORLD and lives with her family in the mountains of western North Carolina. Follow Mindy on Twitter @mcbelz.

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