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U.S. Highlights Kurdistan Region’s Treatment of Minority Groups

The following article was originally published in Rudaw.

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — The US State Department acknowledged that the Kurdistan Region has remained a place of protection for minority communities from Iraq in a recent report, while noting challenges faced by “non-Muslims and those who convert to faiths other than Islam” in Iraq.

“Members of religious minority communities, civil society organizations, and media continued to report some non-Muslims chose to reside in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region (IKR) and areas under KRG [Kurdistan Regional Government] control,” read the recently published Iraq 2016 International Religious Freedom report.

The CIA estimated in 2016 that of Iraq’s 38,146,025 people, 99 percent are Muslim, breaking that down to 55-60 percent Shiite and 40 percent Sunni.

The State Department report noted “ISIS pursued a campaign of violence against members of all faiths, but against non-Sunnis in particular.”

In Iraq, Christians, Yezidis, Sabean Mandeans, Baha’i, and Zorostrians among other groups comprise less than 0.1 percent of the population respectively, according to CIA statistics.

Local Christian organizations have told Rudaw English that they estimate around 200,000 Christians remain in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region.

While Christians were largely displaced by ISIS, Yezidis faced genocide, killings, rapes and kidnappings at the hands of the extremist group. Most Yezidis fled for safety into the Kurdistan Region in camps in the governorate of Duhok in 2014.

The US reported Yezidi leaders estimate that “350,000 to 400,000 Yezidis reside in the north.”

The Yezidi homeland of Shingal remains turbulent and split — controlled by Shiite-led Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitaries in the south and various Kurdish forces in the north, including the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Peshmerga.

Ambassador Michael Kozak of the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor spoke about the report and justice for the victims of ISIS via teleconference on Tuesday.

“There’s first the legal obligation, which is extradite or prosecute, and then the moral obligation is to try to stop it. And I think the administration has very good news on that front in terms of pushing ISIS back into the hole it crawled out of,” he said.

Amal Clooney, legal counsel for Yezidi victim Nadia Murad, has decried that no ISIS member has been held to account for their crimes in a court of law.

Members of ISIS have faced criminal courts in Duhok, but special tribunals or courts for ISIS leaders have not been established.

Iraq’s Supreme Judicial Council announced in June they will open a “special judicial body to investigate the terrorist crimes committed against Yezidis” in Baaj.

However the only Yezidi lawmaker in Iraq’s parliament rejected the location citing inaccessibility from where most Yezidis are located in the north.

Kozak defended the US’ record on ending ISIS genocide against Yezidis.

In the war against ISIS, “there’s the moral side of it too, which is what are you going to do to try to put a stop to genocide, and I think on that we, the U.S., have a good record in that we’re in the process of defeating the perpetrators of the genocide pretty soundly in Iraq and elsewhere,” Kozak said.

The US report also noted the populations of other minority groups: about 350,000 to 400,000 Shabaks, 300,000 Kakeis, in addition to the KRG Ministry of Religious Affairs (MERA) reports of “430 Jewish families” in the Kurdistan Region and “fewer than 10 Jewish families are known to reside in Baghdad.”

Eight faiths are currently registered within the KRG: Islam, Christianity, Yezidi, Judaism, Bahai, Sabean-Mandean, Zoroastrian, and Kakei.

However, Iraqi national identity cards denote the holder’s religion and the only religions which may be listed on the national identity card are Christian, Sabaean-Mandean, Yezidi, and Muslim.

“Without an official identity card non-Muslims and those who convert to faiths other than Islam may not register their marriages, enroll their children in public school, acquire passports, or obtain some government services,” the US report said.

The annual report is submitted to US congress and to President Donald Trump and serves as a reference for legislation, funding, and policy.

“From the beginning, America has been a place that has cherished the freedom of worship. Sadly, many around the globe do not enjoy this freedom…” Trump stated in reference to the annual report. “[W]e pray for the strength and wisdom to achieve a better tomorrow – one where good people of all faiths, Christians and Muslims and Jewish and Hindu, can follow their hearts and worship according to their conscience.”

This article was originally published in Rudaw.

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