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Minorities in Iraq fear for their safety ahead of elections

6 March 2010

Iraq's ethnic and religious minorities, particularly Christians, have been targeted for attacks ahead of Sunday's elections. These attacks, community leaders claim, are intended to discourage minorities from voting in nationwide polls, Minority Rights Group says.

The international human rights group says current security measures have failed to prevent targeted attacks on minorities. MRG calls on Iraqi authorities to increase security on election day, in and around areas where minorities live, to guarantee safety and ensure that people vote in the Sunday poll, which is expected to be the most important election in the country since the US led invasion.

In the last month there have been a series of attacks targeting Christians killing at least nine people in Mosul. Other minorities such as Shabaks, Mandaeans, Turkmen and Yazidis have been targeted for attack before and fear for their security in the current climate.

‘We are getting reports from minority groups that they are very concerned about their safety and are fearing attacks prior to and on election day,' Chris Chapman, MRG's head of Conflict Prevention says.

‘Christians have clearly been targeted for attack and are in a very vulnerable situation. Their lives are at risk and because of the rising tension and legitimate fears, they may not be able to effectively participate in the election,' Chapman adds.

On 23 February, a 59-year old Christian Aishwa Maroki and his two sons Bassam and Mokhlas were murdered in front of his wife and their daughter in northern Iraq, the Society for Threatened Peoples, a Germany-based NGO says in a statement. In further incidents on 16 and 17 February two Christian students Wissam George and Zia Toma were also killed in Mosul.

According to MRG's partner organisations in the last few days alone, at least 120 Christian families have fled their homes to the Niniveh plain and to the autonomous region of Kurdistan.

Christians are the minority community that stands to gain the most out of this election. Of the 8 seats reserved for minorities 5 are for the Christian community. The remaining three have been divided between Shabaks, Sabean Mandaeans and Yezidis.

However, the Yezidis, numbering 300 – 400,000 are unhappy that only one seat has been reserved for them.

‘These elections are crucial for minorities. Despite some communities being unhappy with the number of seats reserved for them in the next parliament, all minorities recognize the significance and importance of voting to bring to parliament capable and qualified candidates who will represent their interests,' Chapman says.

According to MRG's partners in Iraq current security measures do not take into consideration the specific threat to minorities. MRG calls on Iraqi authorities to immediately increase security not just in towns where minorities live in but in neighbouring areas as well and to maintain security on the day of elections and after the polls in case there is post-election violence.

Notes to editors

Interviews are available with:

In London

Chris Chapman, Head of Conflict Prevention, Minority Rights Group International.

For more information on the situation of minorities in Iraq see Assimilation, Exodus, Eradication: Iraq's minority communities since 2003 and the Iraq country entry on MRG's online World Directory of Minorities.

Minority Rights Group International (MRG) is a non-governmental organisation working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples worldwide.

For further information or to pre-arrange interviews please contact:

MRG Press Office
Farah Mihlar
T: +44 207 4224205
M: +44 7870 596863
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