Faili Kurds meet at Sheikh Tahsen Faili’s meeting room, dewakhan in Kurdish, in Baghdad. Photo: Rudaw video
BAGHDAD, Iraq – With the Kurdistan Region’s planned referendum on independence a hot topic in conversations around Baghdad, Faili Kurds living in the Iraqi capital feel threatened and are talking about the need to defend themselves.
“They say you are Kurdish. If Kurdistan holds a referendum, what are you doing in Baghdad?” Akram, a Faili Kurd, described his recent encounters with Arabs in the city to Rudaw's Baghdad correspondent Bahman Hassan.
Faili Kurds in Baghdad say that every time the Kurdistan Region takes a step forward, the Failis are hit back. The threats against them increase.
One Faili Kurdish man at a Baghdad tea shop said they have asked Kurdish President Masoud Barzani for help. “We as the Faili Kurds in Baghdad ask the Kurdish government and the parties to think about us.”
Others are considering taking their security into their own hands.
Sheikh Tahsen Faili’s meeting room, dewakhan in Kurdish, has become the headquarters for meetings of tribal leaders and notable Faili Kurds to discuss the referendum and the fate of their community.
Some of them support the Kurdish referendum. Others say they are neither for nor against it.
“If the Kurdistan Region wants to declare independence and become an independent state, let it become independent, but not at the expense of the Kurds of Baghdad,” said Sheikh Jawad, a notable member of the Faili community.
“Today we face the threat of forced migration, similar to what we faced in the past when our homes and property were stolen by the former regime. We expect the moment will come when we will be forced to move and scheming against Faili Kurds will begin again,” said Sheikh Tahsen, a tribal leader.
Faili Kurds are Shiites who have mainly lived in the south in Baghdad and some of the disputed areas on the southern edge of the Kurdistan Region. Decades ago, they were wealthy leaders of the business community and strong supporters of Kurdish independence movements. That, along with their Shiite faith, made them the target of persecution by the regime of Saddam Hussein which is now labeled as genocide by an Iraqi high court.
Thousands were killed and as many as 1.4 million were stripped of their citizenship and deported to Iran between the 1960s and 1980. After the overthrow of Hussein’s regime, less than 15,000 have returned.
Fearing renewed persecution as the Kurdistan Region prepares for a historic vote on independence, tribal leaders in Sheikh Tahsen’s meeting room say they cannot rely on Iraqi political parties or groups to defend them. They want to form their own armed group.
“Of course we are threatened because of the referendum. Therefore, we need to come up with a way to defend ourselves and reach an agreement among ourselves to form a military force. We have already declared that the force we are going to form will be secret and we will not reveal the numbers of the force or the commanders,” said Ali Akbar, a Faili leader.
According to unofficial data, between 2003 and 2017 more than 350,000 Kurds left Baghdad. Now the number of Faili Kurds remaining in the city is about 150,000.