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Northern Iraq minorities victims of 'human rights catastrophe': HRW

[JURIST] Minority groups in northern Iraq have been the target of attacks [press release] by Sunni Arab extremist groups and harassment by Kurdish forces because of ongoing disputes with the country's central government, according to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] report [text, PDF] released Tuesday. HRW alleges that Yazidids, Shabaks, and Assyrian Christians are caught between the Arab and Kurd struggle for control of ethnically, culturally, and religiously diverse disputed territories – the main front being Iraq’s second-most-populous province of Ninevah. The report documents attacks between February and March 2009 against minorities who resisted Kurdish efforts to bring the area under government control. HRW called on the Kurdish government to legally recognize Shabaks and Yazidis, allow minorities to participate in public affairs, and permit organizations with opposing political views to operate freely without retribution. HRW deputy Middle East Director Joe Stork said:

Iraqi Christians, Yazidis, and Shabaks have suffered extensively since 2003. Iraqi authorities, both Arab and Kurdish, need to rein in security forces, extremists and vigilante groups to send a message that minorities cannot be attacked with impunity.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) [official website] denied the allegations, claiming that minorities in Iraq have been targeted by terrorists and insurgent groups. In a statement Tuesday, the KRG responded [press release] that the HRW report "reveals a systematic misperception of the circumstances in Ninevah and a worrying ignorance of Iraqi history."

Last year, the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) [official website] released [JURIST report] a report stating that human rights violations had continued in Iraq despite improvements in general security conditions. UNAMI highlighted its concern for the situation of minority groups, the displacement of civilians in the country, and the aspects of detention by the various authorities in Iraq. Under the regime of Saddam Hussein [JURIST news archive], tens of thousands of Kurds were slaughtered during the Anfal campaign [HRW backgrounder; JURIST news archive] of 1988. After the overthrow of Saddam, Kurds have argued that much of the territory in dispute belongs to them.

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