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Monday, 3 June 2013
Page: 4878

Mr CRAIG KELLY (Hughes) (21:01): I rise to second the motion moved by the member for McMahon and to speak in support of it. I note that this is the second motion in the House today on Assyrian issues, following the motion moved earlier by the member for Berowra. I recognise in the gallery tonight Hermiz Shahen and David David of the Assyrian Universal Alliance and their delegation.

There are two parts to this motion. The first part, clause 1(a), states that this House notes:

(a) the Assyrian population of Iraq continues to suffer persecution 10 years after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Saddam Hussein was the most brutal of dictators. He led his people into senseless wars—the Iran-Iraq war, the invasion of Kuwait—that resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths. He used chemical weapons on his own people. I recall a question that was asked at the time of the Gulf War: was Iraq the way it was because of Saddam or was Saddam the way he was because of Iraq? History now answers that question, and it seems there is truth in both, for Saddam and his Ba'athist regime did at least keep the genie of Islamic militancy bottled up for a time.

Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, Assyrians in Iraq have been the targets of numerous fatal attacks by Islamic terrorist groups. I will give a few examples. In August 2000 an attack by Islamists on Iraqi Christian churches killed 11 people. In 2006 an Orthodox priest, Boulos Iskander, was snatched off the streets of Mosul by a group that demanded a ransom. Even though the ransom was paid he was beheaded; worse still, when his body was found the priest's arms and legs had also been cut off. In 2008 the Assyrian clergymen Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Mosul died after being abducted. In January 2008 bombs exploded outside nine churches. This followed a group affiliated with al-Qaeda, calling themselves the Islamic State of Iraq, stating that Iraq's indigenous Christians were a 'legitimate target'. And on 31 October 2010 militants of al-Qaeda in Iraq laid bloody siege to 'Our Lady of Deliverance' Church in Baghdad during Sunday evening mass, killing 58 people, including two priests, and wounding 78 more. As detailed in The New York Times on 1 October 2010:

Blood still smeared the walls of Our Lady of Salvation Church on Monday. Scraps of flesh remain between the pews. It was the worst massacre of Iraqi Christians since the war began here in 2003.

Survivors said one of the priests, Father Sahib:

… was pushed to the ground as he grasped a crucifix and pleaded with the gunmen to spare the worshippers.

He was then killed, his body riddled with bullets.

The motivation behind these attacks on Iraqi Christians is religious. It is aimed at driving the minority out of Iraq. What is happening today in Iraq is ethnic cleansing. Assyrians are being killed in a deliberate and strategic way. This brings me to clause 1(b) of this motion which notes the fall in the number of Christians in Iraq since 2003. At that time there were nearly 1.4 million Christians in Iraq, but due to deaths and forced emigration the figure has fallen to around 500,000.

The new Iraq, from the time of its liberation from the Ba'athist regime, has witnessed a huge exodus of Christians. In the decade since the invasion by the coalition of the willing, more than half of Iraq's Christians have fled to refugee camps in Syria or Jordan, reducing a pre-war population of more than a million to 500,000 or maybe fewer, maybe only 400,000, most of whom survive today in Iraqi Kurdistan. Those remaining are experiencing one of the world's most pressing humanitarian crises, with systematic persecution largely unreported in the mainstream media. Today, on their ancestral soil, all that is left of the world's oldest Christian nation is a small and desperate minority. A culture that survived centuries of hardship now stands on the verge of disappearing completely. If nothing is done, the Christian community in Iraq, after more than 2,000 years as a significant presence, may disappear altogether.

The second clause of this motion sets up what the international community must do to ensure this never happens. The motion calls for the government of Iraq to establish an autonomous province in the Nineveh plains region to provide a haven for Assyrians and all other historically Christian people, for the continuation of their linguistic, cultural and religious traditions.

In considering this motion, it is important to understand that Iraq is a nation artificially created out of the ruins of the old Ottoman Empire. It is composed of multiple ethnicities and religious sects. Iraq's modern borders were mostly demarcated in 1920, not by the Iraqi people but by the League of Nations when the Ottoman Empire was divided. It placed Iraq under the authority of the United Kingdom as the British Mandate of Mesopotamia. A monarchy was established in 1921, and the Kingdom of Iraq gained independence from Britain in 1932.

In 1958 the monarchy was overthrown and the Republic of Iraq was created. It has been controlled by the Ba'ath Party from 1968 until 2003 when the Ba'ath Party was removed from power after an invasion by coalition forces. The coalition presence in Iraq ended in 2011.

Iraq has never known a functioning democracy. Its different groups were only held together by Saddam's use of political terror, and this worked to keep Iraq together until the invasion of 2003. So we cannot look at Iraq through rose-coloured Western glasses, assuming that multiculturalism will just work out fine. Just look at the overall chaos in Iraq today: more than 1,000 people were killed in violence in Iraq in May this year, making it the deadliest month since the sectarian slaughter of 2006-07. And on Saturday the United Nations reported that the fear is raised of a return to civil war. Today we read reports of five men being arrested in Iraq after three laboratories designed to produce sarin and mustard gas were uncovered. Also recovered were model helicopters, flown by remote control, which were designed to distribute the chemical agents. It seems clear that the terror plot of al-Qaeda planned to strike targets not only within Iraq but also in Europe and the US, using chemical weapons and model aircraft.

Amongst this chaos the new authorities in Baghdad are simply unable to protect their Christian minority. So the only way forward is what is known as the 'Nineveh plains solution': the establishment of an autonomous province in the Nineveh plains region at the centre of the ancestral Assyrian homeland, to provide a safe haven for Assyrian and all other historically Christian people. In those plains, where the Bible places the Garden of Eden, there already exists a compact Christian population. For the Assyrian Christian, including the Chaldean-Syriac community, the only effective solution is for the Assyrian people to remain in Iraq in the creation of a new province in the Nineveh plains—the heart of the ancestral Assyrian homeland.

Local control would allow these indigenous people to gain a stable foothold within their own country, where they could sustain, develop and grow a base population in a secure and stable environment. Christian autonomy in the region would protect Assyrian communities and also work as a buffer zone between warring sides. This solution is also consistent with the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

We now have a nonpermanent seat on the United Nations Security Council—one that came at great expense to the Australian taxpayer, and we only hold it for two short years. This should not just be a trophy that sits on our mantelpiece gathering dust. We must use our voice to promote freedom, democracy, human rights and religious liberty, and to raise the significant human rights concerns of the Christian Assyrians with the Iraqi government.

There is no other alternative other than to see the ongoing Christian Assyrian genocide—the second within the last 100 years. We have a moral obligation to see that this cultural extinction will not happen.