Last month, Iraqi Kurds voted overwhelmingly for independence. For years they suffered under Saddam Hussein. They have long trumpeted the cause of self-determination. On the back of the referendum, the Kurds declared their own nation state. However, the Iraqi Government in Baghdad said that the vote was unconstitutional and declared the outcome null and void. This week the President of Iraq ordered troops to seize the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, previously under Kurdish control.

Outnumbered by the Iraqi army and without the support of the international community, the Peshmerga (Kurdish fighting force) retreated from the city without firing a shot. It has since retreated from other parts of northern Iraq it once claimed for itself, including towns and villages it helped liberate from Islamic State. Sinjar, the home of the Yazidis, is now under the control of a paramilitary force loyal to Baghdad. Tuz Khumartu, a town near Kirkuk, has fallen under the control of Hashid al-Shaabi, a militia backed by Baghdad.

The respected journalist Patrick Cockburn wrote this week that the loss of Kirkuk ‘will go down as one of the great disasters in Kurdish history’. The Peshmerga also abandoned the last two oil fields under its control on the outskirts of the city. The three provinces that make up the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region remain, for now, under the jurisdiction of the Kurdish Regional Government. All other territorial gains made in the post-Saddam years look set to return to Baghdad.

The Iraqi Government has the support of the international community. With the odd exception, nobody in the West supports the fragmentation of Iraq into smaller, unstable chunks. There is also the belief that Iraq was (and could be again) a pluralist society, a society in which different groups can live side by side in relative peace. To this end, fragmentation along sectarian lines is seen by many as a backwards step.

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One of our trustees and Mike Simpson, our new CEO, hope to visit Baghdad in the coming days to talk to the Iraqi government about the needs of the minority communities, including the Christians of northern Iraq. They will be urging actions to ensure security and the reconstruction of the devastated villages of the Nineveh Plain, as well as encouraging the government to reaffirm its commitment to a pluralist Iraq.

We want to give thanks to all those who responded to our emergency prayer request two days ago. We believe that your prayers are making a real difference to the situation there.

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The FRRME Team