Iraqi Christians pray in a church. File photo: AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Soraya, a cultural and media organization in Iraq, has called on the international community to take quick action to protect indigenous Christian and Yazidi populations in Fishkhabur.
“Due to the attacks by the Hashd al-Shaabi militia, who are supported by Iran, Christian villages have faced very serious threats," read a portion of the organization's statement.
The letter was sent to UN bodies in Iraq, the Security Council, and European Union representatives in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region.
The group warns that nearby fighting between Iraq's paramilitary forces – namely the mostly Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi – and Kurdish Peshmerga may spill into Christian and Yezidi villages in the proximity. It lists villages numbering some 17,000 families.
The statement calls for the international community to take "quick action" to protect the indigenous minority groups.
“On occasion of the International Religious Freedom Day, we call on the international community to protect Iraq and Middle East’s indigenous religions from destruction, murder and terror,” it adds.
Local Christians in the town have appealed to Pope Francis
October 27 marks International Religious Freedom Day.
Fishkhabur is where the borders of Turkey, Iraq-Kurdistan Region and Syria meet. The Semelka crossing links the Kurdistan Region with Syria, while the Ibrahim Khalil (also called Habur) gate serves the Turkish border.
Iraqi federal forces and Iranian-backed paramilitaries launched an attack on Kurdish forces near Fishkhabur on Thursday morning. The Peshmerga reported that they repelled the attack. Fishkhabur is located within the borders of the Kurdistan Region and is not in disputed territory.
The moves were part of Baghdad's measures to impose federal control over Kurdistani or disputed parts of the country which are claimed by both capitals. Additionally, the federal government wants control of borders and airports.
Christians have faced persecution and displacement in Iraq, while Yezidis were killed and enslaved by the thousands in what the UN has declared genocide.
Iraq’s Christian population has fallen from 1.5 million before 2003 to just hundreds of thousands today.
In the war against ISIS, around 1.8 million displaced Iraqis and Syrian refugees, including religious minorities, fled into the Kurdistan Region which had a population of just over 5 million.
"We honor the work that the Kurds have done in order to make that happen," said US State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert on Thursday.
On Thursday, US Vice President Mike Pence announced an initiative to allow State Department funding via USAID to go straight to religious NGOs operating in Iraq and Syria, bypassing UN coffers.
Since 2003, most NGO workers in northern Iraq have had offices in the Kurdistan Region.