JACKI LYDEN, host:
It's not only Shiite and Sunni Muslims who are dying in Iraq. The country's ancient Christian community, Assyrians and Chaldeans, have been targeted as well, their churches burned. An estimated 100 to 120,000 have fled their homes. Some now want to create an autonomous region for religious minorities on the Nineveh Plain of northern Iraq.
I spoke about this proposal and the plight of Iraq's Christians with Michael Youash of the Iraq Sustainable Democracy Project, and Pascale Warda, a former human rights adviser to the Iraqi government.
Ms. PASCALE WARDA (Former Government Adviser): Attacks were more tangible this last month, and 13 women were kidnapped and killed. It's really a chaotic situation.
LYDEN: Has there been a spike in attacks on Christians, Michael Youash, since the pope's remarks about Islam in September? Did that make things worse?
Mr. MICHAEL YOUASH (Iraq Sustainable Democracy Project): It absolute has. The recent beheading of the priest in Mosul, Father Paul Alexander, or Paulos Iskander, was originally for a 250 to $300,000 ransom. When they found him beheaded and dismembered, the note attached said, This is because the pope has not yet apologized.
Ms. WARDA: I would like to add that it's really ridiculous to bring this pretext, because it was just one day before pope speak, three priests in different weeks were already kidnapped. They were already doing that.
LYDEN: So you are saying, Ms. Warda, that even before the pope made his remarks in Germany, these attacks were escalating.
Ms. WARDA: Yes. Yes. Yes.
LYDEN: You are now proposing a plan that would make an autonomous zone in northern Iraq for Christians. Michael Youash, could you tell us something about that?
Mr. YOUASH: It's not a new plan. A number of groups have been pushing this since 2003, with liberation. What's happened now is that due to the escalating tensions, they are accelerating the process of bringing it to fruition. The Nineveh Plain is specifically a very ancestral place, north and east of Mosul. You can't walk through the Nineveh Plains without seeing winged bulls; Hinnis, the site where ancient Assyrian kings engraved reliefs into cliff faces.
Now, the Nineveh Plain has also been a heterogeneous area. The people have commingled. It's an area that builds bridges between Kurdistan, between Arabs to the south and only offers the best for federalism in Iraq in democracy building.
LYDEN: So Pascale Warda, this is already an Aramaic-speaking district with a lot of Christian people living in it already, right?
Ms. WARDA: Yes. And Arabic also, because all Maslawi around, and Shabak, they speak Arabic.
LYDEN: You've been speaking, Ms. Warda, to American officials in the last couple of weeks that you've been in the United States. What kind of reception have you gotten to the idea of a separate Christian enclave near Mosul on the Nineveh Plain?
Ms. WARDA: I think it depend to who we spoke. Many who were understanding perfectly that is a normal right. And why not?
LYDEN: Can either of you give us a time frame for when you'd like to see this happen?
Ms. WARDA: I don't know the real time, but I think we must make it a subject of constitution now. So it's up to us when we will really present this issue to be rectified by parliament.
LYDEN: Pascale Warda is a former Iraqi cabinet official and human rights adviser to the Iraqi government. Michael Youash is the director of the Iraq Sustainable Democracy Project.
We thank you both very much for being with us today.
Ms. WARDA: Thank you.
Mr. YOUASH: Thank you, Jacki.
LYDEN: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.
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