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Some Displaced Iraqi Christians Ponder Kurds' Role
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Some Displaced Iraqi Christians Ponder Kurds' Role


Some Displaced Iraqi Christians Ponder Kurds' Role
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And next we'll report on one of the many groups that complicate the war in Iraq. We know very well that there are multiple Muslim sects in Iraq. There are also Christian groups. And in the northern city of Mosul, thousands of Christian families have been chased from their homes. Many are living with relatives or taking refuge in churches in an area north of the city that's known as the Nineveh Plain. They're struggling to adapt, and they're still debating who was responsible for driving them out. NPR's Corey Flintoff reports from Iraq.

COREY FLINTOFF: Here's how the religious cleansing in Mosul took place. First, graffiti appeared on the walls in Christian neighborhoods, "Get out or die." Young men drove through the streets with loudspeakers, shouting at people to leave. Then the killing started.

Mr. ABU SARA: (Through Translator) My brother came home from work that day. He went to a nearby shop where suddenly gunmen turned up and asked him for his ID. Then they told his friends to step aside. They shot him dead and left.

FLINTOFF: This is a 44-year-old Christian who identifies himself only as Abu Sara. He and his family are staying with relatives in a Christian community north of Mosul. Abu Sara is a mathematics teacher, and he weighs his words carefully.

Mr. ABU SARA: (Arabic spoken)

FLINTOFF: He says it's difficult to be certain why the attacks are taking place now. American commanders have said they could be the work of Islamist militants. But Abu Sara says the word among Christians in Mosul is that the Kurds may have a hand in it. He says all the attacks on Christians happened on the side of the city that's dominated by Kurdish troops, yet the Kurds did nothing to stop them. Um Reyan is a Christian woman whose family is now taking refuge in an Assyrian Catholic church.

Ms. UM REYAN: (Through Translator) We heard the people from another Christian neighborhood describing how these armed men stormed the houses and shouted at people to get out. They were speaking in a kind of pidgin Arabic, not like a Mosul accent at all, but like Kurds trying to speak Arabic.

FLINTOFF: These are startling observations coming from people who are, in effect, living on Kurdish generosity. The settlement where Abu Sara and his family are staying was built by the finance minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government. The church where Um Reyan is safe is also receiving money from the autonomous Kurdish zone. Why would the Kurds be involved in attacking Christians in Mosul, yet protecting them once they've been displaced to the Nineveh Plain area?

Mr. MICHAEL YOUASH (Director, Iraq Sustainable Democracy Project): The Nineveh Plains is these people's ancestral homeland. But in today's Iraq, it is an area contested by the Kurdistan Regional Government seeking to absorb that territory in an expanded KRG, and these people are caught in the middle of it.

FLINTOFF: Michael Youash is the director of the Iraq Sustainable Democracy Project based in Washington, D.C. His group advocates for minorities in Iraq. Youash is calling for a United Nations investigation and a multinational force to protect the Christians in the plain. Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Adeeb has also alleged that the Kurds are seeking to use the displaced Christians to expand Kurdish territory. But Adnan Mufti, the speaker of the Kurdistan Regional Parliament, says the notion that Kurds are playing a cynical game to dominate the area is laughable.

Mr. ADNAN MUFTI (Speaker, Kurdistan Regional Government): (Through Translator): It's like a joke. Really this is irresponsible talk. There are some people, if they hear that any crime, any plan is outside of Iraq, they are ready to say, that's the plan of Kurds.

FLINTOFF: Mufti says the Kurds are aiding displaced Christians for purely humanitarian reasons because they know what it's like to be the victims of ethnic cleansing. He also points out that the protection of Christians in Mosul is the responsibility of Iraq's central government. Even in those Christian communities where people suspect that Kurdistan may be behind their displacement, some people say they'll support the Kurds' aims to gain security. This woman declined to give her name.

Unidentified Woman: (Through Translator) When I'm desperate for help and someone reaches out to aid me, he'll get my support.

FLINTOFF: The same woman, a displaced Christian living with 28 other people in a church meeting room, says she believes the crisis is political. She thinks it will be over as soon as Kurds and Arabs sort out their power struggle over Mosul in the provincial election scheduled for early next year. Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Baghdad.

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