Assyrian Christians in Iraq are getting it from all sides these days.
While it was obvious that our religion was making us the target of religious extremists, it seems like the Iraqi government is taking care of threatening the other part of the equation: our cultural identity!
On the evening of January 13th, the ‘Ashurbanipal Cultural Center’, an Assyrian social and cultural club in the Karrada district of Baghdad, was unjustly and surprisingly raided by the very Iraqi security forces and other politicians from the Baghdad city provincial council. Not only was this raid unforeseen and uncalled for, it was even confusing to some of those doing the raid themselves! During the raid, various items were confiscated, furniture toppled, things broken and club members abused and beaten for no reason.
Aftermath of the attack on the center
The excuse given for this raid is that the club was serving alcohol to its members and attendees, something which is slowly and gradually becoming prohibited in Baghdad and other parts of Iraq. But this can’t be the case because a member of Baghdad’s provincial council came out later confirming that Christians are excluded from the ban to sell alcohol and that this wouldn’t be a reason to raid the club. But he didn’t know why it was raided either and instead announced a much welcome full investigation into what happened and why. The investigation committee is to present its findings and conclusions within three days of the announced date. We are not hopeful, though, that we will hear anything earth-shattering or admittance of wrong-doing by the police and members of Baghdad’s provincial council.
In a country struggling with containing and defeating terrorism and insurgency, why the hell would the security forces instead focus their attention and resources on an innocent and very loyal group like the Assyrians? Worse yet, why target a cultural and social club which can only help restore some normalcy and civility to the Iraqi society? Talk about absolute wrong priorities. But I am afraid it is less about priorities and more about hidden agendas and intentions. It is said that during the raid, some of the security force personnel (including members of the Iraqi police force) were on the phone with a Sheikh member of the Baghdad Provincial Council. The said Sheikh was quoted as telling the security officials on the phone “It is either me or this club, I want it shut down for good…”
There is a saying in Iraq that goes something like: “the guards happen to be its robbers” (حاميها حراميها) and it couldn’t have been more accurate in this case. The security officials that we entrust with spreading the rule of law and ensuring our safety, are the very ones who are doing the opposite. How can Iraq move forward and be governed with the rule of law when the very security personnel are doing such a lousy, unprofessional and bad job? It is ironic that the Iraqi PM Nouri Al Maliki ran on an election platform titled “State of the Law”!
Needless to say, the Iraqi government has to come down really hard on everyone involved with this uncivil raid and send a strong message to every Iraqi that enough is enough; the law is above everyone else. It is one thing not to be able to arrest an invisible terrorist or insurgent, but to attack a social and cultural club for no reason, will not help the reputation of the Iraqi security forces at all. As if its reputation for being unprofessional and lacking loyalty needed any more damage.
The original, nation-loving and loyal Assyrian Christian population of Iraq needs to be rewarded for its loyal behavior and not targeted like this. This will only make more of them leave and as a result degrade Iraq’s reputation in world opinion even more.
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