By: FA ME
QARAQOSH, Iraq — In a country thoroughly shattered; there is a particular hopelessness here in the Christian towns.
When you arrive in a Sunni area, you’re struck by both a pervasive fear of the Shiite-led government and a fierce sense of pride, a conviction that things ran more efficiently when the Sunnis were in charge (and, implicitly, that things will again when they someday return to power). In the most impoverished and dilapidated Shiite neighborhoods, districts like Sadr City where garbage runs in rivers in the streets, an awareness of newfound power runs strong. They know it’s their time.
But up north, in the small Christian villages that dot the flat plains that run from Mosul, Iraq’s third largest city, into the mountains of Kurdistan, optimism is almost nowhere to be found. The residents seem tired; looking into their empty, often unhealthy faces, you wonder whether the massive exodus of Christians from Iraq–half the population by many estimates–has left only the weakest and least capable behind to look after their homeland.
The Christians here do speak with some pride of their historical claims in Iraq: they were here long before the Islamic invasion, and speak a language, Assyrian, that hearkens to an expansive militaristic kingdom that once left all would-be foes in a state of cold fear. The northern province of Nineveh, where the Christians live, is the Biblical land where Jonah was once sent by God to bring righteousness to a wicked city, after his rebellious sojourn in a whale. That, however, was some time ago.
Now the Nineveh plain is a tense stretch on the faultline that lies between Arabs and Kurds, and seems always on the brink of conflict (the tiredness of the descriptions– “powder keg,” “tinderbox,” etc–has become a sort of dark-humored joke among officials and journalists).
Kurdish security forces have been a presence here since they were brought in by the Americans in 2003, even though the Nineveh plain lies on the Arab side of the boundary dividing the 15 Iraqi provinces administered by Baghdad from the three provinces that form the semiautonomous Kurdish region. Americans worried about the alliance form the very beginning and their worries have been justified: the Kurds now claim the lands as their own and are refusing to allow administration from the provincial government.
While there have been attacks by Sunni Arab insurgents in the region, the presence of the Kurdish forces have largely kept the violence of Mosul from spreading into the plain. But the security comes at an explicit price, say the Christians. They are expected to support annexation of their areas to Kurdistan.