After the Kurdish independence referendum in late September, tensions are further increasing in northern Iraq. Statements that a time of negotiations would follow between the Kurdish Regional Government in Erbil and the Central Government in Baghdad have not been followed by action and former displaced citizens who returned to Nineveh are now forced to flee again. This time it is the population of the Christian city of Teleskof, how is now fleeing to the neighboring town of Alqosh.
After Kurdish forces refused to leave these places, civilians were urged yesterday to leave as soon as possible. The call came from the Iraqi army and Shiite militia groups on the Nineveh Plains. Later in the afternoon, fighting started between these groups and the Kurdish Peshmerga. Between seven hundred and one thousand Christian families, many with small children, were forced to flee for their lives. According to witnesses, several civilians have been injured.
The seriousness of the situation is reinforced by the fact that Teleskof is one of the few positive examples of reconstruction and repopulation of Christian areas in Iraq. The fact that the city once again becomes a war zone and once again is emptied on its population is a hard blow to all Chaldeans/Syriacs/Assyrians. If violence is not stopped, it will not be possible to return to the Nineveh Plains and the Christian presence will be a mere memory.
In this context, the European Union and the United States must act immediately. Through all available political and diplomatic channels, clear messages must be communicated directly to Erbil and Baghdad.
The Iraqi government has a constitutional obligation to protect its citizens, including Christian communities. Shelling the own population in Christian cities is in direct violation of this obligation, all violence must be immediately terminated.
The Kurdish regional government has previously undertaken to evacuate the Nineveh Plain. Remaining Peshmerga must now immediately implement this withdrawal and leave the Christian cities and communities to which Kurds have no historical claim and legal right.
The Christian presence in Iraq has long been threatened, what is happening now pushes the Christians to their limit. Together with my colleagues and representatives of various Christian organizations, I am currently working to raise awareness among decision makers and the public on the seriousness of the situation. While I sincerely hope that we can influence the people in Iraq from the EU, I would like to appeal to Foreign Minister Wallström and the Swedish Government to use their channels for pressure against the leaders in Erbil and Baghdad.
The situation is deeply worrying.