The Assyrian Christian population in a northern Iraqi province expressed hope for a better future under the province's newly elected Sunni government, which has pledged to respect the rights of minorities and allow them to have a voice in the political process.
In Nineveh province, a region heavily populated by Christians and other minority communities, the Sunni-Arab Al-Hadba party wrested control of the province from the Kurdish party by an impressive 48.5 percent of votes.
Chaldo-Assyrian, Yezidi, Shabak, and Turkmen minority communities in Nineveh province say they expect significant changes under the new leadership. The leader of the Al-Hadba party, Athil Al-Nujeifi, is the brother of Osama Al-Nujeifi, an outspoken minority rights advocate in Iraq's parliament.
"The minorities are an important part of the Nineveh province and they should enjoy all the rights they are entitled to," Osama Al-Nujeifi said, according to Assyrian International News Agency. "We believe the minorities have to participate in the political sphere, in the provincial council and all the local institutions. This is important for us and we believe we will be able to accomplish it."
Since December 2005, the Nineveh province has been governed by the Kurdistan Democratic Party and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. Under the Kurdish government, minority communities have been terrorized and oppressed by extremists.
Last October, at least 14 Assyrian Christians were murdered which led to a fearful exodus of more than 15,000 Iraqi Christians out of the city of Mosul. Although initial reports speculated militants of Al-Qaeda affiliated were behind the anti-Christian campaign, suspicion later largely pointed to Kurdish Peshmerga forces.
The Al-Hadba party was openly critical of the Kurdish party during the election campaign, telling it to stop dominating a province where Kurds make up only about 25 percent of the residents.
For years, Assyrian Christians and other minority groups have asked for an autonomous state under the federal central government where minorities could govern themselves and work without fear of persecution. The idea was in conflict with Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) plans to annex the region.
Minority groups hope that under the Sunni-Arab Al-Hadba party their vision can become a reality.
"We support local and legal police forces to be set up, and we reject any kind of militias. Assyrians should have Assyrian policemen in their areas, locals from the same area," said Osama Al-Nujeifi, according to AINA. "If there is a formal request from the ministry of interior for such local police forces we will be happy to make it happen. We do not want to have any militias, especially militias who are attached to political groups and who are used to impose political agendas, such as the Kurdish attached militias."
Iraq's Christian population has been under extreme pressure from Muslim terrorists since the U.S.-led offensive in 2003. Within less than eight years, the Christian population has fallen to half of what it was prior to the Iraq war. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees reported that although Christians make up only three percent of Iraq's population, they now account for nearly half of those fleeing the country.