By Tim Anderson – Dec 14, 2021
In pursuit of its declared aim to create a ‘New Middle East’, it was Washington that masterminded the purge of Christians from the region, under the guise of its pseudo-Christian ‘crusade’ of the 21st century.
That purge made use of sectarian Judaism, led by Apartheid “Israel”, the worst of sectarian Islamists, led by the Saudis and Muslim Brotherhood groups, and ethnic cleansing carried out by US-backed Kurdish separatist projects in both Iraq and Syria.
Many sources tell of the recent purge of Christians from the Middle East. Members of the oldest Christian communities themselves wrote of the “ethnic cleansing [of] Assyrians from Iraq”, soon after the US invasion of 2003. Later, the terrorist group ISIS was blamed.
In 2015, Pope Francis demanded an immediate end to the “genocide” of Christians taking place in the Middle East. In 2018, he repeated this call to ROACO, a group assisting the Eastern Churches, speaking of the risk of “eliminating Christians” from the Middle East and of the “great sin of war”. Yet he did not point his finger at any particular state or group responsible; a failure for which he was chastised by the Syrian Priest Father Elias Zahlawi.
The western war media has blamed everyone from ISIS to Hamas to Muslims in general for the steady expulsion of Christians from Palestine, Iraq, and Syria. But all those claims miss the mark. The USA and its collaborators, including Australia, are the prime movers of this great crime.
Western liberal society has also played a role, priding itself on giving refuge to ‘persecuted minorities’, while ignoring responsibility for the wars which drive these refugees.
The aims of Washington’s ‘crusade’, initially said to be against ‘terrorism’, were made clear in subsequent years. The growing cluster of wars was part of a greater project which former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in 2005 and 2006, called the ‘creative chaos’ involved in the ‘birth pangs’ of Washington’s vision of a ‘New Middle East’. That meant “taking out” multiple independent states, which General Wesley Clarke said are, after Afghanistan, “Iraq, then Syria and Lebanon, then Libya, then Somalia and Sudan, and back to Iran.”
Those who focus only on the ISIS purges, or claim some ‘organic’ Muslim reaction to the various US invasions and proxy wars, miss the directing hand of Washington. That has been the key driver behind the catastrophe which has befallen the entire region and in particular the world’s oldest Christian communities in several West Asian countries.
As ‘fighting ISIS’ became the main false pretext for occupying both Iraq and Syria, let’s take a look first at the evidence of US responsibility for ISIS, before moving to the purge of Christians in Palestine, Iraq, and Syria.
Washington’s responsibility for ISIS
In early 2007, US investigative journalist Seymour Hersh wrote of ‘the redirection’ in US policy, which would focus on using “moderate Sunni” Muslim states, such as Saudi Arabia, to counter the influence of Shia Muslim Iran. The sectarian conflict was at the core of the “creative chaos” idea.
ISIS was created over 2004-05 in Iraq as AQI or ISI, by the Saudis at Washington’s direction, to inflame sectarian violence and in particular to keep apart the (post-Saddam Hussein) Shia dominated governments of Iraq and Iran. This terrorist group committed shocking sectarian atrocities against Iraqi civilians, especially Shia Muslims. By 2007, US army papers showed that the largest group of foreign ISI/AQI fighters in Iraq had come from Saudi Arabia.
In August 2012, US intelligence agency DIA predicted that a “salafist principality in eastern Syria” was likely, as extremist forces dominated the insurgency, and that was “exactly” what the US wanted, so as “to isolate the Syrian regime” in Damascus.
The resurgence of ISIS in both Iraq and Syria, over 2012-2017, followed the failure of other proxies to overthrow the Damascus government and Washington’s fear of the growing ties between Damascus, Baghdad, and Tehran, which faced common security threats.
Practicing the old ‘divide and rule’, Washington was determined to maintain barriers between Iran, Iraq, and Syria. Yet it was the combined forces of these three neighbors that eventually drove ISIS out of major cities and towns. Former Secretary of State John Kerry made the partial admission that Washington watched as the terror group grew, hoping it could be managed – while ISIS took over the cities of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa and Palmyra in Syria.
By late 2014, senior US officials including Vice President Biden and head of the US Military General Martin Dempsey were admitting that their ‘major allies’ in the region had been arming and funding all the extremist groups in Syria, including the UN Security Council proscribed groups Jabhat al Nusra and ISIS, in attempts to overthrow the Syrian government. Dempsey acknowledged that “major Arab allies” fund ISIS, while Biden named Turkey, the Saudis, and the Emiratis as having poured “hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of tons of weapons” into “anyone who would fight against Assad.” It was disingenuous for Biden and Dempsey to suggest that their ‘major allies’ would take such a course independently.
Despite these admissions, and despite the successful Iran-Iraq-Syria purge of ISIS announced by Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in November 2017, US direct military intervention in both Iraq and Syria was maintained, under the pretext of “fighting ISIS”.
None of Palestine’s Christians are Israeli
The only Christian ‘residents’ (“Israel” will not recognize them as ‘citizens’) in the Israeli colony are Palestinians, and they are subject to the same ethnic cleansing as their majority Muslim brethren. Washington and its NATO allies occasionally complain about the expanding Israeli ‘settlements’ in Palestine, but in practice, Washington is the colony’s major foreign funder while the USA, Germany, and some other Europeans are “Israel’s” main weapons providers.
Christians are now a very small minority in occupied Palestine, but they were once many more, at least in certain areas. One church source put Christians at 11% of Palestine, at the end of the Ottoman era in 1922. Yet Ramzy Baroud says “the most optimistic estimates” today have Palestinian Christians at less than 2% of occupied Palestine.
Some declines have been quite recent. The Christian population of “Bethlehem” in 2020 was only 22% but was said to have been much more just ten years earlier. Other villages have seen big losses. In Beit Jala, the Christian majority fell from 99% to 61%; in Beit Sahour, from 81% to 65%. A study by Dar Al-Kalima University found that the sharp decline of Christians in Beit Jala was due to “the pressure of Israeli occupation … discriminatory policies, arbitrary arrests, confiscation of lands [which] added to the general sense of hopelessness among Palestinian Christians.”
The Israeli media blamed the Islamic resistance party ‘Hamas’ for the decline of Christians in Gaza. But Palestinian Christians blame “Israel”. The Syrian priest Father Zahlawi posed this question to Pope Francis, “If you want to suggest that the Muslims are the ones who force Christians to leave ‘the land they love’ … how can you explain their emigration at a worrisome rate since the establishment of “Israel” while they [Christians] throughout hundreds of years, lived … side by side with the Muslims?”
No doubt the atrocities committed against Palestinian youth in “Bethlehem” have contributed to the purge in that town. In Dheisheh ‘camp’, now an outer suburb of “Bethlehem”, a young third-generation refugee told this writer in early 2018 that the Israeli southern command had a declared practice of systemically shooting Palestinian youth in the legs and knees, to cripple them. Many published accounts support his story. It was and is a systematic campaign against both Muslim and Christian Palestinians.
Purges in Iraq after the 2003 invasion
While Iraqis feared Saddam Hussein, many Christians also feared his removal, as his government had been “largely tolerant of their faith and included high-ranking Christians”. By late 2004, that generalized fear persisted, with Christians believing they were “high on the target list”. They were only 3% of the Iraqi population but their community was “one of the oldest in the Middle East … [and had] long played an important role in Iraqi politics, society and the economy”.
Just one year after the illegal US invasion of March 2003, Islamic extremists were reported to have bombed many Iraqi churches, with 59 Assyrian churches bombed; “40 in Baghdad, 13 in Mosul, 5 in Kirkuk, and 1 in Ramadi”. This was around the time al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI, later ISI, and later still ISIS) began its operations.
A 2007 report (revised in 2017) spoke of the “incipient genocide” of Iraqi Assyrians, most of whom were Christians. By then, 118 churches were said to have been attacked or bombed. The report said that “Assyrians comprised 8% (1.5 million) of the Iraqi population in April of 2003. Since then, 50% have fled the country.” By 2007, there were more than 1.2 million Iraqi refugees in neighboring Syria.
The Assyrian report blamed extremist Muslims but also the newly empowered Kurdish administrations. “Kurdish authorities denied foreign reconstruction assistance for Assyrian communities and used public works projects to divert water and other vital resources from Assyrian to Kurdish communities. Kurdish forces blockaded Assyrian villages. Children were kidnapped and forcibly transferred to Kurdish families.”
As early as the 1970s, Washington had enlisted the support of Kurdish leaders in northern Iraq, at first as a counterweight to Saddam Hussein (who was also a US collaborator in the 1970s and 1980s) and later as a tool to divide and weaken any government in Baghdad. “Israel” has also had a long-standing presence in Iraqi Kurdistan, “more conspicuous” in recent years.
The strong 2014 resurgence of ISIS in Iraq, after it had been reactivated and rebadged to help divide both Iraq and Syria, renewed these pressures. A 2015 report wrote that while ISIS had “killed Sunni and Shia Muslims, they are clearly engaged in a systematic campaign to rid Iraq of non-Muslims and ethnic minority communities, including Assyrian Christians”. The terror group, essentially an instrument of Washington through the Saudis, gave the Christians in Mosul the ‘options’ of conversion to Islam, paying a religious levy, or death. Many fled.
When the second wave of ISIS attacks hit Iraq in 2014, the terror group seized Mosul and drove thousands of Christians from that large city and from the nearby smaller city of Qaraqosh, near the ruins of ancient Nimrod and Nineveh. Most of those Assyrians fled north into the Kurdistan region but many others left the country. The US had warned of a “humanitarian catastrophe’ from the ISIS attacks but was more concerned with dismembering the Iraqi and Syrian states.
Before ISIS Mosul had more than 15,000 Christians; by mid-2019 only 40 had returned. A Christian report of 2019 spoke of the “genocide” of Christians and Yazidis, and of a 15-year climate of violence and turmoil, following the US invasion. Sargon Donabed’s book ‘Reforging a Forgotten History’, concludes that the 1.4 million Iraqi Christians in 2005 had been almost halved to 750,000, by 2014.
Kurdish separatists in Iraq and Syria, backed by the US war coalition, added to the pressures on Assyrian and other Christian communities. After the sectarian Islamists, mostly recruited by the Persian Gulf monarchies, Kurdish separatists became Washington’s second tool to divide and weaken those independent states. Indeed in north Iraq, the notion of a ‘second [Kurdish] Israel’ was widely touted.
In September 2017, when a Kurdish referendum in north Iraq sought to convert federal status into a separate state, this attempt at secession was repudiated by the Iraqi parliament and government. “Israel” was “the only state to [openly] support the Kurdish secession from Iraq”. Iraqi forces moved in and took control of Kirkuk in a matter of hours, crushing the secession plan.
Nevertheless, the northern Iraqi region had developed strategic relations with both the US and “Israel” and became a base for covert operations aimed at dividing Iraq and destabilizing both Iran and Syria. But these plans met resistance. From at least 2007, Iran began shelling anti-Iran insurgent groups on its border, which were sheltering in Iraqi Kurdistan. Iranian shelling of these US proxies inside Iraq’s northern borders was ongoing in late 2021.
Washington was thus the prime mover and mastermind of the demise of Iraq’s Christians, by invading Iraq, destroying the relative protection which had been offered to Christians; then destabilizing new Baghdad administrations with terror through the Saudi-styled sectarian Islamist creations (AQI/ISI and later ISIS), which purged Christians and other minorities; and finally by backing a Kurdish controlled northern zone, which further purged indigenous Christians and in particular Assyrians. That operation was later ported into NE Syria, where Assyrians and Armenians had fled a century back, seeking refuge from the massacres of the Ottoman Empire.
Tim Anderson: Director of the Sydney-based Centre for Counter Hegemonic Studies.
Featured image: The USA and its collaborators are the prime movers of the Christians’ purge from the Middle East.
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