Assyrian exodus from Iraq
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The Assyrian exodus from Iraq refers to the mass flight and expulsion of ethnic Assyrians from Iraq, a process which was initiated from the beginning of Iraq War in 2003 and continues to this day. Leaders of Iraq's Assyrian community estimate that over two-thirds of the Iraqi Assyrian population may have fled the country or been internally displaced since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 until 2011. Reports suggest that whole neighborhoods of Assyrians have cleared out in the cities of Baghdad and Al-Basrah, and that both Sunni and Shiite insurgent groups and militias have threatened Assyrian Christians. Following the campaign of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in northern Iraq in August 2014, one quarter of the remaining Iraqi Assyrian Christians fled the Jihadists, finding refuge in Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan.
The Guardian published that the violence faced by Assyrians has led to a drop in their numbers in Iraq from at least 800,000 in 2003 to 400,000 in 2011. The 2009 Catholic Almanac puts the numbers much higher - a drop from 1.5 million mostly Assyrian Christians in Iraq in 2003 to just 500,000 in 2009. Some estimate the updated number of Chaldo-Assyrian Christians in Iraq at just 300,000. The UN High Commission for Refugees estimated in 2007 that one third of 1.8 million Iraqi refugees were Assyrian Christians. A similar percentage of the 1.6 million internally displaced within Iraq in 2007 were likely Assyrian Christian, many of whom had fled Baghdad, Basra and Mosul to the relatively stable Northern Iraq.
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The Iraqi Minorities Council and the Minority Rights Group International estimated that Iraq's pre-war Assyrian population was 800,000.
During Iraq War (2003-2011)
Assyrians in post-Saddam Iraq have faced high rate of persecution by Fundamentalist Islamist since the beginning of the Iraq war. By early August 2004 this persecution included church bombings, and fundamentalist groups' enforcement of Muslim codes of behavior upon Christians, e.g., banning alcohol, forcing women to wear hijab. The violence against the community has led to the exodus of perhaps as much as half of the community. While Assyrians only made just over 5% of the total Iraqi population before the war, according to the United Nations, Assyrians are over-represented among the Iraqi refugees (as much as 13%) who are stranded in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey.
The gravity of the situation prompted Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani to ask Vice President Adil Abd al-Mahdi to take steps to protect the Christian community. Sunni imams in Baghdad have made similar statements to their congregations in Friday Prayer sermons.
During Iraqi insurgency (2011-present)
Widescale ethnic cleansing of the Assyrian people (otherwise known as Chaldean or Syriac) in Iraq and Syria by the jihadist organization Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) was begun following their Northern Iraq offensive in mid 2014. Unfortunately, most of the land that ISIS conquered in Northern Iraq was part of the Nineveh Plains, and was the only area left that was safe for the Assyrians in Iraq. By August 2014, the Nineveh plains was reduced by 60%, and almost all of the main population centers of the region were lost to ISIS.
Accommodation of displaced and refugees
A large number of Assyrians have found refuge in Christian villages in Nineveh plains and the Kurdish Autonomous Region. This led some Assyrians and Iraqi and foreign politicians to call for an Assyrian autonomous region in those areas.
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