Swedish Government rejects Proposal for Nineveh Plain Autonomy for Chaldeans-Syriacs-Assyrians

Foreign Minister Ann Linde rejected a proposal for the Swedish government to officially pressure the Iraqi government to turn the Nineveh Plain region in an autonomous region for the Chaldeans-Syriacs-Assyrians. After written questions by Member of Swedish Parliament, Lars Adaktusson (Christian Democrats), Linde said that it is not up to the Swedish government but to the people of Iraq to decide on such a province and self-government within the framework of an inclusive democratic process:

Below are excerpts of the Interpellation Debate in the Swedish parliament:

FM Ann Linde: Lars Adaktusson has asked me if I am prepared to demand from the Iraqi government to take its responsibility and actively protect its country’s Christian communities. Lars Adaktusson has also asked me if I support the creation of a province followed by political self-government in the Nineveh Plains for Assyrians, Syriacs and Chaldeans.

I share Lars Adaktusson’s position on the importance of protecting Iraq’s religious and ethnic minorities, including the Christian population. Christian communities living in Mosul and the Nineveh Plain have suffered very much from Daish (ISIS), and many have still not been able to return home…

There is a long-term political solution to the problems that form the basis of the difficult region Assyrians, Syriacs and Chaldeans live in. They live in the part of Iraq that constitutes the so-called disputed area… In order to facilitate return and reconstruction, it is particularly important in the short term for an agreement between the federal government in Baghdad and the provincial government in Erbil on the issue of responsibility for the administration, governance and security of the Sinjar area.

MP Lars Adaktusson: …Unfortunately, this is not something that can wait or be pushed to the future. We all know that at the moment the political situation in Iraq is very unstable, but the repression against Assyrians-Syriacs-Chaldeans is ongoing. Ethnic cleansing daily forces Christian families to flee… ISIS carried out a genocide against Christians and Yazidis.

With silent approval from the government in Baghdad government, a demographic change is underway. In the cities and villages on the Nineveh Plains, the population composition changes. Where Christian families have lived, Muslim families move in. In several places where Assyrians-Syriacs-Chaldeans have historically been the majority, Shi’a Muslim shabaks take over.

Parallel to this, as we know, Iran is strengthening its influence. The dictatorship regime in Tehran today controls a Shiite Muslim militia in Iraq with 60,000-70,000 soldiers.

The responsibility for stopping this serious development lies with the political leadership in Baghdad. The Iraqi government has the opportunity to take the individual action that would now matter most to the Christian population, namely to upgrade the Nineveh plain to the status of province and give Assyrians-Syriacs-Chaldeans the right to political autonomy. This is politically feasible, and it is within the framework of Iraq’s constitution. A decision in that direction was already made in early 2014, but it has never been implemented.

I would like to ask the following questions: What is the explanation why the Swedish government does not officially want to support political self-government? Why not visit the victims of the ISIS genocide on a subject that is absolutely crucial to them?

FM Ann Linde: In order to ensure long-term peaceful coexistence, an inclusive political process is needed for national reconciliation and for the implementation of reforms that lead to full respect for human rights without discrimination. Such a process is also of great importance in resolving the overall issue of control over the disputed area and in establishing a legal rule of these areas which have the support of the population.

The international community can support the national Iraqi dialogue, not least through UN’s Iraq operation, Unami…

It is important to emphasize that control over the disputed areas is not merely a matter between Baghdad and Erbil. The minority groups, such as the Christian population, who have their home areas in that area must have their interests met, and their voices heard in discussions about the future of the area.

MP Lars Adaktusson: It seems to me that we’re not so far apart when it comes to political self-government. Nevertheless, it sounds like the Foreign Minister is not willing to openly state support for self-government from the Swedish governments side.

In this context, it is important to emphasize that there is room in Iraq’s constitution to upgrade the historic areas around the Nineveh Plain to a province and give the people there self-government. So it is not a division of Iraq we are talking about; it is self-government as regulated in the constitution.

I would also like to emphasize that there is an understanding of the importance of such a decision around Europe in like-minded countries. In October 2016, the European Parliament passed a resolution expressing clear support for the formation of a province comprising the Nineveh Plain. In the resolution, the European Parliament highlighted the right of security, protection and self-government for indigenous peoples. And it called on EU Member States, including Sweden, to support the Iraqi government in the formation of a province on the Nineveh Plain;

Despite some rays of light in the form of rebuilding of housing, infrastructure and other things that were ravaged by IS, there are dark clouds hanging over the Nineveh plain. Of the 125,000 Assyrians-Syriacs-Chaldeans who lived there before ISIS withdrew, only half have been able to return. Of Mosul’s 200,000 Christians, zero have been able to return. Reconstruction is too slow, but above all, there is no security and opportunity to make own decisions about the future.

I think that the Swedish government with its good relations with Iraq and extensive development cooperation – as the Foreign Minister has said – could use its consequent political influence to more clearly and more concretely support the Christian indigenous people.

From what she has said here, the Foreign Minister seems to be leaning towards no support for self-government. Then an important question rises: What is the government’s message to the Christian and Yazidi groups if there is no support for self-government? They want nothing more than to return to their historic hometowns, but they cannot because of persecution and ethnic cleansing.

FM Ann Linde: The issue of increased self-government for some groups in Iraq is a matter for the people of Iraq to decide on, within an inclusive democratic process that respects both international law, human rights and the rule of law. It is also important that the disputed areas are not a matter discussed solely between Baghdad and Erbil, but that the minority groups may make their voices heard in the discussions.

MP Lars Adaktusson: … without a joint political support from the outside world, Iraq and Middle Eastern Christians will disappear. In the same way that Jewish life has long ago been eradicated from the Arab world and in Muslim-majority communities, Christianity also soon risks belonging to history. The church bells that have been ringing for 1,700 years run the risk of going silent, and churches and historic sites are decaying.

For the thousands who are directly affected by this, the outside world has a great responsibility. This also applies to us in Sweden.

FM Ann Linde: I agree with Lars Adaktusson that persecution of Christians is a problem. This applies not only to Iraq but also elsewhere. Iraq has a long history of ethnic and religious diversity, and we believe that preserving this unique historical heritage is of great value to the entire world community.

… improved security and reconstruction of minorities’ home areas in the liberated areas are important prerequisites for the Christian population to return.

Sweden has a broad and long-term commitment to Iraq. It aims to support the emergence of a democratic society that also includes minority groups. We emphasize this when talking to government officials. We emphasize that one must have full respect for human rights and the rights of minorities. We are also pushing the EU and the UN on the issue to take clear measures and taking a stand for reforms that will go in this direction.

The Interpellation Debate ended here.

(Translation from Swedish to English by SyriacPress)