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Assyrians Blame Kurdish Parties for Losing Quota Seats in Iraq Court Ruling
By Julian Bechocha
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The Kurdistan Region's two governing parties are responsible for a landmark Iraqi federal court decision to strip minority quota seats as they exploited the quota for their own benefit, a coalition of Assyrian, Chaldean, and Syriac Christian parties said on Saturday.

A major ruling by Iraq's Federal Supreme Court on Wednesday labeled the 11 quota seats in the Kurdistan Region's parliament reserved for ethnic and religious minorities as "unconstitutional," effectively rejecting their legitimacy.

The decision is significant for Iraq's Christian community as it rules that their candidates for the legislature can no longer contest within the designated quota, with Christian parties forced to field their candidates against better-funded, established Kurdish political parties.

"We hold responsible the two main parties in the region, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, for exploiting and seizing these seats and dragging them into political conflicts between them," said a joint statement by six Assyrian, Chaldean, and Syriac political parties including the Assyrian Democratic Movement, Chaldean Syriac Assyrian Popular Council, Assyrian Patriotic Party, and Sons of Mesopotamia (Abnaa al-Nahrain) parties.

The parties blamed the KDP and PUK for failing to "protect and preserve" the 11 seats by restricting voting within the ethnic and religious components.

"We have worked diligently in previous sessions to ensure the restriction of voting within the component and protect the quota from exploitation by ruling parties, but to no avail," the statement said.

Srud Maqdasy, a former Kurdistan MP with the Sons of Mesopotamia from Erbil's Christian-majority district of Ainkawa, told Rudaw English on Sunday that the federal court ruling has made it "impossible" for a Christian to secure a seat in parliament.

"In terms of logic and according to statistics, it is now impossible for any Christian to secure a seat in parliament," Maqdasy said, stressing that Baghdad's decision was politically motivated and "baseless."

"Previously, it was possible to get our candidate over the line if all Christians from Erbil, Duhok, and Sulaimani voted for them," he said, but with the division of the Kurdistan Region into four electoral constituencies as opposed to one, "that is no longer possible."

Maqdasy argued that the court had no legal reason to remove the minority seats as a quota for minorities exists in the Iraqi parliament. "If it is unconstitutional [to have minority seats] in the [Kurdistan] Region, why is it constitutional in Baghdad?" he said.

"We were in constant coordination with the federal court to enter the case as a third party to give our insights and arguments and defend our rights, but they [the court] refused," he lamented.

The former lawmaker noted that the top court made the ruling in accordance with the Kurdistan Parliament Election Law 1 of 1992. Included in that ruling, however, is a special voting status for Christians and other minorities so that only they could vote for their candidates.

"If the court is deciding under [Law] 1, it should implement all its details without exception," he said.

"We were calling for that - elections where only minorities can vote for minority candidates to ensure fair representation, not for our seats to be taken away," Maqdasy stressed.

"Unfortunately, they [the court] did not give a replacement to the oppression that they imposed on us."

The lawsuit that led to the court's ruling was filed by two politicians from the PUK and a Christian party in Sulaimani against the Kurdistan Region's election law, passed in 1992 and last amended in 2013.

It claimed that several articles of the election law were unconstitutional, including Article 36 which stipulates that 11 of the legislature's 111 seats are dedicated to minorities under a quota system. Per this law, Turkmens have five seats, Assyrians, Chaldeans, and Syriacs have five, and Armenians have one.

Calling the federal court ruling a "constitutional violation," the parties lamented that minority rights have been deprived by a "politically biased decision" which represents a regression in democratic principles and goes against the rights of minorities to hold representation in the executive, judicial, and legislative branches, as stipulated by the Iraqi constitution.

"We affirm that the decision was not within the jurisdiction of the Federal Court, and it was incumbent upon them not to compound error with error but rather to address deficiencies in the law and prevent the seizure of quota seats by influential political powers," they said.

Lawmakers in the Kurdish and Iraqi parliaments are often criticized for not being the true faces of the populations they represent but rather agents of ruling parties.

Winning minority candidates with external party affiliations often receive tens of thousands of votes from districts in which the community has very minimal to no presence in, as big parties often mobilize scores of loyalists to tip these candidates over the line.

Yonadam Kanna, a veteran Assyrian politician and former secretary-general of the Assyrian Democratic Movement, said on Friday that his party will not participate in the upcoming Kurdistan parliament elections without the minority quota seats.

"We will not participate, because our numbers are hundreds of thousands while the others are in the millions. Certainly, there is not an equal opportunity to compete as Article 16 [of the Iraqi constitution] requires," Kanna, also a two-time Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) minister, told Rudaw.

The date of the Kurdistan Region's delayed parliamentary elections is yet to be determined.

On Tuesday, delegations from Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) and the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) met with Kurdish authorities. In the meeting, June was suggested as a date for the vote, Rudaw has learned.

Iraq's Christian community has been devastated in the past two decades. Following the US-led invasion in 2003, sectarian warfare prompted followers of Iraq's multiple Christian denominations to flee, and attacks by the Islamic State (ISIS) in 2014 hit minority communities especially hard.

The community's existence in Iraq is on the brink, with fewer than 300,000 Christians remaining in the country today, a staggering fall from nearly 1.5 million before 2003, according to data obtained by Rudaw English from Erbil's Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda in 2022. However, the actual number is expected to be even lower.

The lack of fair and equal representation in the Iraqi and Kurdish parliaments has pushed even greater numbers of Christians towards exodus. In Iraq's most recent parliamentary elections, only one of five winning Christians was an independent, while the other four were candidates of the pseudo-Christian Babylon Movement, a party and militia affiliated with the pro-Iran Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF, or Hashd al-Shaabi) and closely aligned with the Badr Organization.

Campaign videos from the Babylon Movement depicted the party amassing tens of thousands of voters from central and southern Iraqi provinces that have little to no Christian presence.

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