Iraqi Christian militia leader threatens to exterminate Sunnis

(Reuters/Thaier Al-Sudani)Fighters from the "Kataeb Babylon," a group of Christian fighters who fight alongside the Hashd Shabi, Shi'ite fighters, ride in military vehicles in Ali Rash, southeast of Mosul, Iraq.

A Christian militia leader in Iraq has told Sunni Arab tribes on Monday to vacate the northern Assyrian town of Tel Keppe and threatened to massacre them if they do not leave by the end of the week.

Salman Esso Habba, head of the "Christian Mobilization" militia, which is part of the Shia-dominated Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) paramilitary organization, said he gave Sunni tribes "72 hours" since Monday to leave the region, claiming that the homes in Tel Keppe exclusively belonged to Christians, Middle East Monitor (MEMO) reported.

Habba also reportedly stated that Christian's homes and rights could no longer be usurped, which he claimed to have occurred following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq that ousted President Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Sabah Al-Mukhtar, head of the UK-based Arab Lawyers Network and a legal expert, described Habba's comments as disgraceful and pointed out that the militia leader has threatened to commit genocide against the Sunnis.

"He is threatening [the Sunni tribes] not because of what they have done, but because of who they are. That is the definition of genocide from a legal perspective," Al-Mukhtar told MEMO.

He warned that the Christians would be the ones who would suffer in the long term if Habba goes ahead with his plan because they are the minority in the area.

Christian communities have already dissociated themselves from armed Christian groups due to concerns that their actions could jeopardize future peaceful coexistence with other religious communities in Iraq.

Patriarch Mar Luis Rafael, head of the Patriarchate of the Chaldean Church, issued a statement last year, saying they have "no near or far relations with the Babylonian Brigades [a Christian militia] or any other armed Christian factions."

International human rights groups have reportedly documented the atrocities committed against Sunni Arabs during the campaign against ISIS.

According to MEMO, the U.N. has confirmed that hundreds of civilians have been abducted by the PMF. In the town of Saqlawiyah in Anbar province, 643 men have disappeared. While their fate is still unknown, it is feared that they have been killed or detained in secret prisons where torture is prevalent.

In October, Amnesty International accused Iraqi Shiite groups of committing "revenge" attacks against Sunni Arab men.

Last month, Human Rights Watch reported that Shiite armed forces linked to the Iraqi government have committed "horrific abuses" against Sunni Arabs since 2006, when former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, took power and reportedly introduced policies that were deemed to be anti-Sunni.

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