Fears of a new military confrontation in Iraq are mounting among Christians, Iraq's Chaldean Catholic Patriarch, Luis Raphael Sako, has warned.
Christians who are still reeling from the depredations of Islamic State across the Nineveh Plain now fear the Kurdish referendum, whose result is expected today, will lead to a resurgence of violence. The Kurds are expected to vote for independence but the vote has already been rejected as illegal by the Iraqi government.
Patriarch Sako, lecturing yesterday at Sankt Virgil Center in Salzburg, Austria, described the threat of kidnapping, killing and killing of clerics, and the bombing of churches over many years including the bombing of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation of the Syriac Catholics in Baghdad during mass in 2010, when many worshipers were killed and wounded.
'These painful events prompted many Christians to emigrate,' he said.
He explained: 'What happened was caused by: the deterioration of the security and economic situation after the fall of the regime, the spread of the sectarian mentality and corruption, and the wrong foundations in building a modern state after the fall of the regime, and some of the repercussions are still visible today.
'Then came the organisation of the Islamic state, which first began by the displacement of the Christians of Mosul and the towns of the Nineveh Plain on a religious basis, and the detention of their homes and looting. The situation lasted three years. What displaced people experienced during these years of displacement and anxiety about their future and the future of their children led many families to emigrate.'
After that came the liberation of Nineveh towns, alongside the destruction of homes and infrastructure, the burning of churches and looting.
'The result is that Nineveh Plain is divided into two parts: the northern Nineveh Plain run by the Kurds (Peshmerga) and the southern Nineveh Plain is in the hands of the Iraqi army and the popular crowd.'
The displaced Christians breathed freely in the liberation of their areas, he said, especially as the churches embark on a great effort to renovate houses in the Nineveh Plain to encourage people to return.
Dozens of families have returned to their homes, but new tensions have arisen between the Kurdistan Region and the central government because of the region's decision to hold the Kurdish independence referendum yesterday.
'This situation created among Christians a state of anxiety and fear of the possibility of a new military confrontation,' he said, warning it will have 'serious repercussions' for all.
In an additional statement, the Patriarch repeated that tensions with the Iraqi Central Government are escalating.
'If, God forbid, there will be a military confrontation, in such devastating circumstances, both socially and economically, the consequences will be disastrous for all Iraqis, especially for minorities, who are always victims and losers.
'It will be similar to what happened in Nineveh Plain upon the invasion of ISIS terrorists, where minorities were murdered, displaced, and left vulnerably to face demographic change and migration.'
He said it was important that everyone should realise the seriousness and the actual facts of this situation and resume the reconciliation negotiations before it is too late.
'Wisdom should play a vital role in prevailing the voice of moderation, to defuse the crisis. War is not a solution, and would never be a substitute for dialogue. Frankly, such war cannot be endured by either side.'
He spoke as Iraq's prime minister ordered Iraqi Kurds to surrender control of of their airports or face a ban on international flights in the wake of the referendum.