IRAQ: ACN demands David Cameron take action on UN report

The UK director of a leading Catholic charity has called on the Government to act to save persecuted Christians and other faith groups in Iraq and Syria after a UN report said recent atrocities there could be classed as ‘genocide’. 

United Nations human rights office report, based on interviews with more than 100 alleged victims and witnesses, called on the security council to refer the case to the International Criminal Court. 

Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, while welcoming the report, has demanded the UK Government take action to address the situation. 

The report highlights substantial human rights violations, including killings, torture, rape and sexual slavery, forced religious conversions and the conscription of children. 

Outlining the severity of the situation in Iraq, the report states: “It is reasonable to conclude that some of these incidents, considering the overall information, may constitute genocide.” 

According to the report, launched in Geneva on 19th March 2015, many witnesses stated that IS members have “pillaged and destroyed buildings in the city including historic Christian cathedrals and churches.” 

Neville Kyrke-Smith (pictured), National Director Aid to the Church in Need (UK), said: “Aid to the Church in Need very much welcomes the report by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. 

“In the UK we are fortunate to have the freedom to live out our faith, but the terrible reality is that Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq do not. 

“We therefore call on our Prime Minister (David Cameron) and the leaders of every political party to take action to support the religious minorities of Iraq and for the human right of religious freedom to be upheld around the world.” 

Speaking at an ACN event in Westminster, last month, Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, northern Iraq identified the “genocide” in his country and the necessity for the UK Government to take action in order to protect the country’s Christians and other religious minorities. 

Archbishop Warda’s diocese covers the Kurdish-controlled territory which since last summer has become the home to more than 120,000 Iraqi Christian refugees who fled as IS overran such cities and towns as Mosul, Qaraqosh and Karamles. 

Iraq is a priority country for ACN and that is why the charity is responding to the growing humanitarian crisis by providing temporary accommodation for refugee families, medical care and food supplies.

A family history of Iraq, and exile

At revolutionary times, optimists think of the future. When revolution crumbles, replaced by civil war and reinvigorated despotism, minds may wander back to revolutions past. 

Iraqi Odyssey,” the 2014 doc of the mono-nominal Switzerland-based Iraqi filmmaker Samir, may have been inspired by the unruly wave of hope that swept through the Arab world in 2011, and has been little in evidence since. 

It certainly takes its cue from the decadelong aftermath of the Anglo-American overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s Baath regime in 2003. “Odyssey” is very personal film, one that recounts the story of the filmmaker’s family. 

The filmmaker’s father was a judge in the country’s secular law courts and his extended family, the Jamal Aldin clan, have long been part of the Sadah – those notable families of Iraq claiming decent from the Prophet Mohammad’s family. 

Samir’s branch of the Din family is comprised of progressively minded middle class Baghdadis. Coherent, well-educated critics of Western hegemony over Iraq and the rest of the Arab world, the Dins were also imbued with the culture of the countries whose policies they criticized. Communist Party activists, they were deeply involved in working for political change in their country. 

The doc recounts how the fortunes of individual family members rose and fell with Iraq’s political vicissitudes – from the Hashemite monarchy, though the army-led dictatorships that preceded the rise of the Baath Party and the years of repression, war, international sanctions and occupation that marked the long rule of Saddam Hussein. 

When Iraq’s petroleum-fueled authoritarianism made life – let alone a life of political activism – increasingly difficult, family members migrated, with Dins turning up in Paris and London, Los Angeles and upstate New York, Zurich, Abu Dhabi and Moscow. Like the other families in Iraq’s 4 to 5-million-strong refugee community, distance and alien surroundings strained cohesion and national identity. 

From his hundreds of relatives, Samir chose five individuals to be his film’s principal voices – Samira Jamal Aldin, Sabah Jamal Aldin, Souhair Riadh Ahmed, Jamal al-Tahir and Tanya Uldin. These figures run the gamut from charismatic to merely well-spoken. 

Jamal al-Tahir, for instance, who migrated to Moscow, remains attached to the family’s leftist heritage, though after decades in the Soviet Union and post-communist Russia, his ideological commitments have been dampened to amused wistfulness. 

The film’s title comes from poet Sabah Jamal Aldin, who reads his country’s history in terms of Homer’s epic poem “The Odyssey,” and specifically Odysseus’ wife Penelope. Over the years it took her husband to return home with his crew, she was constantly accosted by suitors lusting for Odysseus’ throne as much as her beauty. 

“It’s sad to come home,” Sabah remarks to Samir during a visit to Iraq, “and find your wife Penelope in bed with someone else.” “Iraqi Odyssey” had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall and enjoyed its regional debut a couple of months later at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival. 

Two versions of the film exist. Released in 3-D, the English-language version can be annoying – because the English tends to make the organic exchanges among family members seem wooden, while the aesthetic and practical utility of the 3-D component remains unclear. 

Happily, when “Iraqi Odyssey” enjoys its Beirut premiere at Ayam Beirut al-Cinemaiyya, it’s the Arabic version (subtitled in English) that will be projected. Samir has 17 directorial credits (and rather more production credits) to his name but much of his international reputation rests upon his 2002 documentary “Forget Baghdad.” 

That film recounts the stories of four Iraqi Jewish intellectuals who – caught in the dust storm of anti-Jewish feeling swept up in the wake of the Nakba – were forced to migrate to Israel. Leftists, deeply critical of theocratic and sectarian politics, all four have had to make their own peace with their adoptive home. 

The four also retain a yearning for Iraq as they remember it, and the ideals that bound them to the movement. “Forget Baghdad” became an unlikely cult classic in the years following Washington’s regime-change gambol through Iraq and remained a prominent item on the art house and gallery scene for years.