Iraq's security forces recently were joined by Iran-backed militias in a violent crackdown on anti-government protests. The mass demonstrations were sparked by widespread fury on the part of Iraqi youths at Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi and what they view as his corrupt government's failure to rehabilitate Iraq after its battle against ISIS and provide basic necessities. Pictured: Iraqi PM Adel Abdul Mahdi. (Photo by Michele Tantussi/Getty Images)
Iraq's security forces recently were joined by Iran-backed militias in a violent crackdown on anti-government protests. These protests have been taking place, since October 1, throughout much of the country as well as in Baghdad.
The mass demonstrations were sparked by widespread fury on the part of Iraqi youths at Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi and what they view as his corrupt government's failure to rehabilitate Iraq after its battle against ISIS and provide basic necessities, such as electricity, clean water and jobs. According to Amnesty International, activists and journalists have been brutally intimidated by Iraqi authorities and gunned down in the streets by snipers. The death toll has passed 180, with figures in the thousands for those wounded.
Among the demonstrators are Assyrians: Iraq's indigenous Christians, who remain the most vulnerable community in the country. Ashur Sargon Eskrya, head of the Assyrian Aid Society, residing in Duhok, Iraq, recently told Gatestone:
"It is so sad to see what is going on in Iraq. That Iraqi youths get attacked and killed by Iraqi security forces for requesting basic human rights is unacceptable. It is unfortunate that those asking for job opportunities, health care and an end to corruption are being treated so harshly by the government; these protesters are the real voice of the Iraqi people. They just seek a peaceful life with all sectors of their society, regardless of religion or ethnicity."
"The Iraqi government should accept the protesters' demand for early elections, with a new electoral system to be organized and monitored by the UN: the current Iraqi electoral system is corrupt."
Eskrya also said that the Iraqi Constitution -- which states that "no law may be enacted that contradicts the established provisions of Islam" -- should be amended, particularly where problematic issues, such as the provisions concerning Sharia law, are concerned.
Eskrya went on:
"As Assyrian Christians, we pay the highest price for bad governance in Iraq. This is why many of us are participating in the demonstrations, and many of our brethren in the diaspora support the protests. Security and stability for all Iraqi people is urgent and imperative. We ask the government to treat all citizens equally and humanely, and to give official recognition to the Assyrians as the indigenous people of Iraq and to our land rights. We should be granted autonomy in our ancient homeland, the Nineveh plains or northern Iraq, and be able to have our own local forces provide security for our society and region, with the support of the Iraqi government.
"We hope Western countries will support Assyrian Christians as the indigenous people of the region, and help by providing aid to Christians to recover from the genocide by ISIS and putting more pressure on Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government to respect the rights of Assyrians and let us freely elect our municipal and parliamentary representatives."
In a show of solidarity with the Iraqi protesters, Juliana Taimoorazy, founding president of the Iraqi Christian Relief Council and an advocacy fellow of Philos Project, organized a "Candlelight Vigil of Prayer for Peace In Iraq" in Chicago on October 9. Taimoorazy, an activist who has spent more than a decade providing humanitarian aid to Iraqi Christians, told Gatestone:
"Iraq has fallen off the radar of most Americans, who are relieved that the US is no longer occupying the country and that ISIS has been hammered into dormancy. But it's time to pay attention. The country is riddled by protests by members of almost every ethnic or religious group, and the government is unstable and ineffective, with an uncertain future.
"If the Iraqi regime were to collapse, most of the country that Americans fought so hard and long to liberate could become, de facto, a colony of Iran. That would damage America's vital national interests and pose a huge threat of terrorist infiltration into the wider region, including Israel. Ironically, most Shia Muslims in Iraq -- who suffered greatly under Saddam Hussein's dictatorship and at the hands of ISIS -- have no stomach for a takeover by foreign, Iranian militias. An Iranian coup would hurt both the numerous Sunnis, and other smaller religious minorities, such as the Yazidis, and my own group -- the original indigenous people of Iraq, the Assyrian, Chaldean and Syriac Christians. We were the group most ruthlessly ethnically cleansed, right under the noses of US troops, as our people became the scapegoats for any angry Muslim fundamentalists who resented America's policy. They treated us as honorary Westerners, but the West did nothing for us. Now 75% of the Assyrians whose families lived in the region since time immemorial remain in exile.
"The answer for Iraq is still the one that doesn't appeal to the powerful or the connected, but offers the best chance of civil peace: real, effective decentralization of political, military and economic power. A country as ethnically and religiously diverse as Iraq can only stay united by one of two means: vicious centralized tyranny that represses all dissent, or serious, careful dissemination of power into its regions.
"Of course, Americans naturally prefer decentralization to tyranny. In the Middle East, however, such approaches are rarely tried. My own Assyrian people, for all that they have suffered, can lead the way. Internationally, we have joined our voices with the Iraqi people, regardless of creed or tribe.
"Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, we have asked the relevant powers to grant us more autonomy in our historic homeland, the Nineveh Plain, along with the freedom to organize local defense forces to protect it. Denied that, we were the chief victims, along with the Yazidis, of the brutality of ISIS. Our men and boys were murdered; our women and girls were entered into computerized databases and sold as sex slaves. Now we are asking again for the right to self-governance and self-defense.
"The current uprising in Iraq looks different from the previous ones, and it will usher in serious change. We Assyrians are calling on Iraqi officials to show their good will; to prove to discontented Iraqis a willingness to reform; and to grant Assyrians and Yazidis seats at the negotiating table as they resolve the current crisis.
"The people on the streets are laying down their lives to demand real change. Many are calling for US intervention. Others trust in their own power to usher in a new era for their country. We ask the United States, under President Donald Trump's prudent but firm leadership, to press Iraq to accept the will of its people. Christians in Iraq are not agents of the West, as some people viewed us in the past. We, the indigenous children of the land, stand shoulder to shoulder with other Iraqis to usher in a new renaissance that promotes equality, diversity, religious freedom and a better life for all."
Uzay Bulut, a Turkish journalist, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute.