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Months after US withdrawal, Iraq’s minorities fear for safety, distrust security forces and call for justice, new report

19 July 2012

To improve security for minorities in Iraq, impunity must end, and those responsible for attacks against these vulnerable communities must be identified and brought to justice, says Minority Rights Group International (MRG) in a new report.

Most members of Iraq’s ethnic and religious minorities continue to fear for their safety, and have a deeply held mistrust of security agencies, according to the report, Improving security for minorities in Iraq, based on research carried out by MRG and its Iraqi partner organization, Iraqi Minorities Council.

The communities who feel most insecure are Armenians, Yezidis, Black Iraqis and Shabaks.

‘Many of the minorities surveyed have little faith in the Iraqi security forces, and see them as being corrupt and easily infiltrated by extremists. Immediate measures must be taken to address this situation; beginning with setting up an independent commission to identify and remove corrupt police officials’ says Chris Chapman, MRG’s Head of Conflict Prevention and author of the report.

Despite lacking confidence in the state to protect them, those surveyed in the report feel that in order to provide effective security for minorities, state structures must be strengthened. Yezidis, Shabaks and Chaldean-Assyrian-Syriacs were enthusiastic supporters of increasing the representation of minorities in security bodies, and almost three quarters of those surveyed called for improved relations and information sharing between the police and ethnic and religious communities.

Unsurprisingly – given that it is the safest region in Iraq – the research shows that minorities’ perceptions of security forces being able to protect them are highest in the Kurdistan region, whilst in Baghdad and the disputed areas in the North, they are the lowest.

Nevertheless some observers are concerned that the first significant episode of violence against minorities in Kurdistan in December 2011, where 37 Christian and Yezidi businesses were set on fire in Dohuk governorate, could be a sign that minorities in the region are not immune from future attacks.

Many minorities felt that setting up their own militias, along ethnic and religious lines – such as the Christian militia that polices villages in the Nineveh Plains – would fail to improve security or protect their rights and interests.

‘Minorities fear an encroaching “every community for themselves” approach, in which they will face the choice of being outnumbered and outgunned, or accepting offers of protection made by other communities, with the terms necessarily dictated by the protector. Ethnic militia can only mean a further cementing of ethnic and sectarian differences,’ says Chapman.

Opinions on the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq at the end of 2011 were very mixed amongst minorities, with many appearing to be happy they were leaving, blaming them for creating a situation where ethnic and sectarian differences have become highly toxic. However the report says that the withdrawal is also a source of uncertainty and anxiety for communities, especially in the disputed areas in the North, where US forces played an intermediary role mediating between competing powers.

The research for the report was conducted in Iraq between July and August 2011. 300 members of 14 ethnic/religious communities were interviewed – Bahá’í, Black Iraqis, Chaldean-Assyrian-Syriacs, Armenians, Kaka’i, Kawliyah (Roma), Kurd Faili, Sabean Mandaean, Shabak, Turkmen, Yezidi, Sunni Arabs, Shi’a Arabs and Kurds.

Notes to editors

  • Interview opportunities:
    • London – Chris Chapman, Head of Conflict Prevention, Minority Rights Group International (English/French/Spanish)
    • Iraq – Louis Climis, Vice-Chairman, Iraqi Minorities Council (Arabic/French/English) – [email protected]
  • The report, Improving security for minorities in Iraq, is available in English and Arabic. Download this press release in Arabic.
  • Minority Rights Group International is the leading international human rights organisation working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples. We work with more than 150 partners in over 50 countries.

For more information or to receive a copy of the report, contact MRG’s Press Office on [email protected].