A Green Ray Over Iraq PDF Print E-mail

In 1892, Jules Verne published the novel The Green Ray in which the main character, Helena Campbell, invests in a deep journey, looking for the extremely rare meteorological phenomenon, the Green Ray. In 2009, Paulo Casaca has returned (once again) to Iraq, in order to produce the report “Green Ray over Iraq”…

Report commissioned by the “Commission to Study the Organisation of Peace”, USA

Tolerance, peace and democracy in Iraq
What role for the international community? 
Section I From cradle of civilisation to prey of barbarity 
Section II, A thorny road out of Chaos
Section III From the green line to the green ray
Section IV München, Max-Pröbstlstrasse, 12
Section V UNIFIL in Lebanon by Kamal Batal
Section VI Elections in Gaza by Jamila Abu Shanab
Section VII Conclusions and recommendations 

Annex Accounts  



According to article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution, the allocation to a specific province or region of the so-called disputed territories, that include the province of Kirkuk as well as other districts situated around the green-line (the old divide between the territory controlled by Saddam Hussein and the ones controlled by the Kurdish forces) should be decided on the basis of the will of its inhabitants and ultimately, if needed be, by mediation of the United Nations.

This is the most explosive and destabilising issue lying ahead of Iraq’s future (if we consider, as unfortunately most international observers do, that the total cleansing after 2003, should be considered a fait-accompli). It is also the core issue being dealt with by a joint-team of political researchers invited by the US-based “Committee to Study the Organisation of Peace” to draw a report on the prospects of the post-electoral and post-US withdrawal Iraq that I am honoured to coordinate.

Kurdish authorities are very strict on the question of the democratic consultation of the population. The President of the Kurdish Parliament, Mr. Kamal Al-Kirkuki, told me in a very formal way on the 12th December, that the disrespect of the popular will as forecasted by the Iraqi Constitution could provoke an open armed conflict.

The pressure being exerted against such a popular consultation has been enormous. All Iraqi big neighbours (Jordan and Kuwait being the exceptions); the Iraqi Prime Minister – here joined by the main so-called Arab parties – some very vocal organisations claiming to speak in the name of Christian, Turcoman or Yazidi minorities; most of the influential international opinion makers on Iraq such as the International Crisis Group, Human Rights Watch and the Economist, and last but not least terrorist groups actions heavily targeting those who want this consultation to take place, have been adamantly stating or displaying their strong opposition on what they perceive as a plot to make a “big Kurdistan” independent of Iraq.

On my present fact finding mission to the region, and as I have been recently for some days in Kirkuk, I decided to concentrate my attention on Sinjar – an important Yazidi area – and Bakhdida (in Arabic Al Hamdaniya, in Turkish Qara Qosh, now used as the name of the main town, the district using the other two names indistinctly) which is an important Christian area.

We have consulted with some community leaders and Kurdish authorities, consultation with other Iraqi authorities unfortunately pending on an unanswered Visa request. I requested and got support from the Kurdish authorities to conduct the mission by providing military police escorts.

Sinjar lies at the North-western edge of Iraq, bordered by Tal-Afar to the East, Al Ba’aj to the South and Syria to the Northwest. The district became sadly famous for being the target of the World deadliest terrorist attack after September eleventh attack on the US.

Although Sinjar has a solid Yazidi majority we can find significant presences of all the major ethnic and other religious groups of Iraq (Arabs, Kurds, Turcoman, Assyrian-Chaldeans, Shea and Sunni Muslims and Christians).

In Sinjar I met with circa thirty opinion leaders in a meeting organised by the Mayor and the President of the District Council where religious and lay leaders, women and men, from all existing ethnic and religious groups were present.

The opinions on both the most contentious issues, the existence of village self-defence forces supported financially and organisationally by the Kurdish regional authorities and the popular consultation on the attachment of Sinjar to Kurdistan or to Nineveh province was solidly and unanimously positive.

Furthermore, some of our interlocutors expressed support for the consultation to take place before the US withdrawal. The UN capacity to undertake the consultation process and to guarantee security was widely viewed with scepticism.

Local people from Khataniya – the town targeted by the terrorist blast that killed five hundred people – explained me that although in practical terms the village reported to Sinjar, formally it is part of Al Ba’aj district, in a display of how intricate the political mapping of the region is. Furthermore, I realised that Tal-Afar would become a sort of Nineveh Island in Kurdish territory in the likely scenario where the majority Arab district of Tal-Afar would vote for belonging to Nineveh while Sinjar would vote for belonging to Kurdistan region.    

On the question of the referendum, I conducted afterwards a random inquiry, on locations and interlocutors I chose, in the main street of the town, in the bazaar and in the local hospital, where circa twenty people were addressed.

With the exception of two persons – both Sunni Arabs coming from a village in Ba’aj, the neighbouring Arab majority district – the respondents were absolutely clear on their demand for a rapid popular referendum.

Regarding, the district of Bakhdida / Al Hamdaniya, we conducted several meetings with representatives of the two most important towns: Qara Qosh and Bartella, which are overwhelming Christian, although surrounded by villages that are mostly Shabak or otherwise Muslim Sunni or Shea. We had also an extended meeting with the Catholic bishop of Erbil

The need for the self-defence forces protecting these two towns was self-evident for all our interlocutors, and no one questioned them, and there was a unanimous appreciation for the Kurdish Regional Government support to these forces.

Regarding the question of the referendum, positions were more divided. The vast majority of our Christian interlocutors stressed the need to preserve the identity of the Christian population and its refusal to dilute it in a Kurdish region, therefore asking for a separate autonomous Christian entity to be constituted. However, they were not able to explain how such a desideratum could be attained when both towns visited, for instance, were surrounded by a myriad of villages with no Christian population whatsoever. Some of our Christian interlocutors, did not disagree with this position on principle, but found it unrealistic.

The Bishop of Erbil stressed that we should not mix the cultural identity question of the Christian community with the political question of the rules overseeing freedom of religion and freedom to express cultural identity. He stressed that the Kurdish Constitution gives equal status for all religions, contrarily to the Iraqi Constitution, and considered this to be the most important factor to be considered for an opinion of the Catholic Church. 

Otherwise, I had the opportunity to meet Kurdish political and business leaders in Erbil and Suleymania and two large delegations of the Provincial Councils of Ambar and Dyiala provinces visiting Kurdistan, the later presided by the Governor himself.

I was very positively impressed by the good relations between the Kurdish authorities and these two Iraqi provinces political representatives. Furthermore, I was very encouraged to observe that all the regional authorities concerned agreed that creating jobs, giving priority to agriculture and social and economic infra-structures, is a top priority, namely to combat terrorism and violence. 

My first and preliminary main conclusions on this matter are:

  1. It is essential to promote a massive job-creation strategy aiming at the well-being and the security of the Iraqi people;
  2. It is necessary to keep the existing self-defence forces in Christian, Turcoman or Yazidi villages in order to protect the lives of these ethnic or religious minorities. As UNHCR April 2009 report on Iraqi refugees states, it is quite likely that the subsistence of terrorist groups and major violence in the province of Nineveh, contrarily to the diminution of the violence registered in the provinces of Ambar, Salahidin and Diyala, has to do with the non-existence of self-defence forces in Arab villages;
  3. The democratic and constitutional right of the Iraqi people on the disputed territories to decide on the territorial organisation of their towns cannot be put into question. The policy of appeasement towards authoritarian neighbouring regimes or terrorist strategies will not only betray the democratic aspirations of the Iraqi people but risks to destabilise the whole region;
  4. The United Nations are ultimately responsible for article 140 implementation. In the context of its mandate and considering the US withdrawal, it is fundamental for the UN to dispose of blew helmets to insure security on the green line as well as of displaced people and refugees in certain other areas of the country;   
  5. Notwithstanding, it is a dangerous illusion to think that there is a new green line or eventually any kind of federal organisational construct, able per se to sort out all the misdoings of the past and to answer the aspirations of respect to cultural or even national identities of different Iraqis;    
  6. Instead of drawing new divisive strict lines on Iraqi soil, it might be useful to remind the famous Julius Verne romance on the green ray, the last ray of the Sunset, and to remind that the Sun is the symbol of Kurdistan, and the Sun sets to the West, that is, on the direction of the green line disputed territories;
  7. Only a green ray of hope, of understanding, mutual respect, solidarity, joining the rich diversity and cultural heritage of the Iraqi peoples, can ultimately sort out the difficult challenges facing Iraq.


Paris, 2009-12-17


(Paulo Casaca)



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