ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – Iraqi Christians, who are wary of returning to their areas due to security concerns, would go back to the liberated Nineveh Plains if the Kurdistan Region became independent, according to a Christian member of Parliament in Kurdistan.
Waheda Yacoub, an Iraqi Christian member of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Parliament, told Kurdistan 24 Christians fear returning home as long as groups they view as hostile to Christians, such as the Hashd al-Shaabi, remain in the area.
“Christians do not trust the Hashd al-Shaabi,” she said. “They would only return to their regions if they gained independence, along with the Kurdistan Region or as their own province.”
In an interview with The Hill, Yacoub stated Iraqi Christians had asked Baghdad to create a governorate for the minority to self-administer the Nineveh Plains.
“Few people living in the areas overrun by [the Islamic State (IS)] have confidence in the central government,” she said.
However, Yacoub shared optimism with the Kurdistan Region, pointing to their similar desires for greater independence from Baghdad.
“President Masoud Barzani said he will support a referendum by the Christians of the Nineveh Plain,” she stated.
“He will honor whatever they decide,” Yacoub noted, stating the central government had not given the same assurances.
“We only ask for the conditions to take care of ourselves. The KRG has said that they will honor the Christians of the Nineveh Plain in any vote on their own self-determination,” a goal most Kurds around the world have long sought after.
“Our villages and our lands are among the Kurds,” she said. “There are always challenges, but the Kurdish people have accepted us [Christians] more readily than others.”
Yacoub mentioned Iraqi Christians continue to be persecuted and live under constant threat in other parts of Iraq, notably in Baghdad and Basra.
“Even today we have many homes [in southern Iraq] where property was stolen without compensation,” she revealed.
Yacoub believes the KRG will respect the rights of indigenous peoples to determine their future, something the Kurdish leadership has reiterated on many occasions.
“How many other Muslim political leaders meet with the Pope?” she asked. “[Barzani’s] family attends mass with the people of Ainkawa at Christmas.
“This is more than a political gesture. There is a genuine affinity,” Yacoub said, noting the historically strong ties between the Kurds and the Christian community.
Yacoub is also the chief advisor to President Barzani on Christian and minority issues as they relate to the referendum on Kurdish independence, scheduled for Sep. 25.
“Christians can also hold posts in the KRG in a way that they cannot with the central government,” she highlighted.
Roughly 70,000 Iraqi Christians live in the Kurdistan Region’s capital of Erbil. Many more thousands live in the Region since fleeing the threat of IS in 2014.
While some have fled to other countries, the Christians who remain are committed to rebuilding.
Yacoub emphasized decentralized governance or separation is the only solution for Iraq.
“In Baghdad, one group [Shia] are making decisions for all of Iraq’s people, including minorities,” she concluded.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany