Iraq's Fearful Christian Candidates
By Afif Sarhan
03 March, 2010
MOSUL – A spike in violence against the Christian community in northern Iraq is leading many of their candidates to consider dropping plans to contest the March 7 general elections.
"The only loser in all this violence is our minority which, although representing only 5 percent of the parliamentary seats, is being the first choice for extremists and militants in the northern region," Kammar Bashar, a Christian candidate, told IslamOnline.net.
At least eight Christians have been killed in the last two weeks in the northern city of Mosul.
Six were gunned down in the street, near their homes or at work places while the two others went missing before their bodies were founded later dumped in the street.
A UN report said Sunday that 4,098 Christians fled Mosul between February 20 and 27 following the attacks.
Some 1,000 Christians marched took to the streets of Hamdaniya, a town 40 kilometres east of Mosul, on Sunday to protest the killings and urge the government for protection.
"Like me, two other colleagues running for seats in the March 7 elections have doubts about running," said Bashar.
According to him, a meeting will be held Tuesday with community members in the region to evaluate the situation and decide about their campaign and candidacy.
"If the reason for Christians being killed in the past days is our candidacy, probably the best to do is drop from the elections race to protect our community since security authorities are not doing anything to help us."
Officials in Ninawa province say the recent attacks aim to force Christian candidates to drop their campaigns.
Under the constitution, five seats of the parliament must be occupied by Christians.
The seats are given to the top vote-collecting candidates across the country, with no geographical quotas.
A spokesperson for the provincial governor of Mosul said they are closely monitoring the recent episodes and have already asked for security reinforcements in areas where the attacks happened.
But Rita Abdel, a member of Christian community in Mosul and an aid worker for an organization helping displaced Christian families, is not satisfied.
"Militants are killing Christians, dropping their bodies outside their homes in front of the remaining family members to scare the community and it is still being considered as a general problem of violence," she fumed.
"The local government said they have asked for more protection in area but no one has reported a single extra officer than we had before."
Many Christians are not planning to cast their ballots on March 7 because of the spiralling violence.
"I won't take the risk of voting and have family members killed," said Tabis Noor, a 41-year-old resident of Mosul, where violence is higher against Christians.
"Yesterday a written message was dropped at the doors of many families in our neighbourhood warning us not to go to polls or try to elect someone from our community. They the price would be paid with our lives," he added.
"If we try to be recognised politically, our punishment is with threats and killings, so it is better to be alive than take the risk for something that in practice will bring no support or prosperity to our community."
Since the 2003 US-led invasion, Al-Qaeda militants have been targeting Christians and other minorities.
Hundreds of thousands have since fled Iraq to neighbouring and European countries.
The number of Christians in Iraq is estimated at nearly 750,000, a small minority in a country of 28 million.
"I’m working in a way to flee Iraq because this country is not part of our history anymore," says an angry Noor.
"We are being marginalised and when we ask for protection, the only phrase we get is that violence is general and not specific to anyone.
"We don’t have rights in Iraq anymore."