Basra, Asharq Al-Awsat- Members of the Iraqi Sabian Mandaean community in the Iraqi Basra province spoke of their dismay at the Iraqi government’s silence with regards to the killings, kidnapping, and extortion carried out by armed groups targeting their community. The Sabian Mandaean’s in Bara claim that these groups are affiliated to political parties in power.
The leader of the Sabian Mandaean community in Basra, Raad Kabashi al-Zuhairi told Asharq Al-Awsat on Monday about a new wave of violence targeting the Sabian Mandaean community in Basra. He made reference to the murder of two Iraqi Sabian Mandaean youth, the kidnapping of four more, and the extortion of dozens of Mandaean goldsmiths. Al-Zuhairi said that all of this is an example of what took place in just one month in one district of Basra province, the al-Zubair district, 30km west of Basra city.
Al-Zuhairi informed Asharq Al-Awsat of a number of crimes committed against the Iraqi Sabian Mandaean community in Basra saying “During the holy month of Ramadan, a group of armed men carrying silenced pistols attacked the jewelry stores of [members of the Mandaean community] Farqad Faiq Othman and Mohnad Qasim Abdul Razzag – who were both born in 1984 – in broad daylight, shooting and killing them in cold blood, stealing jewels worth $40,000 and escaping.”
Al-Zuhairi gave other examples of crime committed against the Mandaean community in Basra, such as “Goldsmith Barham Hakim Nouri was kidnapped by gunmen, he was held at the Safwan farms…and he was not released until tribal chiefs intervened and a large cash ransom was paid.” Al-Zuhairi added “An armed group intercepted the car of Na’el Thajeel, the Chairman of the Mandaean Council of Affairs…on the highway between Safwan and al-Zubair, he was taken to an unknown destination, and he was not released until $40,000 was paid.”
The leader of the Sabian Mandaean community in Basra told Asharq Al-Awsat “This does not stop here, gunmen abducted Abhar Ameed Dagher, a child aged 7 years old, who is the son of one of the Mandaeans and he was not returned until after the kidnappers were paid a sum of $20,000 by his family, and the same thing happened with regards the family of the kidnap victim Arshed Ghiad Kaheel, who was a goldsmith kidnapped by militants and ransomed for $30,000.”
The Sabian Mandaeans are a religious minority in Iraq, and they are followers of the Prophet Yahya [John the Baptist]. There are approximately 70,000 Sabian Mandaeans across the world, although they have historically resided in southern Iraq, particularly Basra, Amarah, Nasiriyah, Kut, and Diwaniyah, with their [official] headquarters located in Baghdad. Religious minorities in Iraq are occasionally subject to attack, which has caused many members of religious minorities to flee the country.
Al-Zuhairi informed Asharq Al-Awsat “The Sabian Mandaeans are one of the original communities of Iraq, and [we] are one of the peaceful groups that do not have a presence in political parties and electoral campaigns, but we are being subject to extortion on a daily basis by some women who buy items from our jewelers, and then return complaining that this jewelry is stolen or not real, or that they have been subject to sexual harassment inside the shop, and these are problems which are caused by the armed groups affiliated to strong tribes and parties.”
Al-Zuhairi accused “the parties who are in power that have armed militias of undertaking these crimes for electoral purposes and in order to sow discord.”
Al-Zuhairi also told Asharq Al-Awsat “Members of the Mandaean community [in Basra] have been exposed to terrorist attacks since 2003, and until now almost 30 people have been killed. The majority of families were forced to emigrate outside of the country, and now only around 500 families of the [Basran Mandaean] community remain out of a total of 6,000 families that lived in the city prior to the occupation.”
He added “Those observing the violence which members of the [Mandaean] community are subject to realize that this aims to drain the country of its main components, and sectarian parties are behind this.”
Al-Zuhairi revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat “The 36 kg of gold that was stolen from a [Mandaean] jewelers in the Tawaji area of Baghdad…was found by security forces in the Najaf province, however the [political] parties in power strongly intervened to attempt to prevent the police from arresting the perpetrators and retrieving the gold.”
He added “This confirmed incident is the best evidence and proof of these parties involvement in the wave of violence against members of the [Mandaean] community/”
Al-Zuhairi also revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat that “many of the offenders who were arrested for committing crimes against members of the [Mandaean] community had their cases transferred to other provinces following pressure by the [political] parties, and this results in them being released due to lack of evidence/”
Al-Zuhairi called for international and human rights organizations to put pressure on the Iraqi government to protect members of the Sabian Mandaean community in Iraq from violence and terrorism.