Iraq investigates post-invasion seizure of Christian property

Iraq investigates post-invasion seizure of Christian property
Court authority says it will prosecute anyone found to have seized property unlawfully in chaos created by dismantling of Saddam-era laws after US invasion.
3 min read
11 February, 2015
Many churches were appropriated after the invasion, according to an NGO [AFP]

Iraq top judicial authority has launched an investigation into the illegal appropriation of property belonging to Iraqi Christians in the years after the US invasion of 2003.

The Supreme Judicial Council said in a statement late on Tuesday that members of the government of the former prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, were among many suspected of illegally obtaining property, including churches and monasteries in Baghdad and southern Iraq.

Offenders took advantage of a state of chaos when the US civil administration under Paul Bremer abolished decrees on land ownership issued under Saddam Hussein.

Powerful individuals and criminal networks were able to gain control of properties, including churches and monasteries built in the 1970s and 1980s, claiming the land originally belonged to them but had been confiscated by Saddam.

As a result, they were able to "repossess" and expel occupants, even though there were very few documents supporting their claims.

The council's Tuesday statement said: "All properties that were confiscated, seized, or had their ownership transferred or appropriated on ethnic, religious, or sectarian grounds, or those seized without remuneration, will be investigated. The offenders will be held accountable and the victims will be given justice".

The council called on Christian Iraqis living in Europe to file lawsuits to reclaim their property should they be unable to travel to Iraq.

     An estimated 7,000 violations have taken place against Iraqi Christians in Baghdad since 2003.

"In the event properties are proven to be owned by people outside Iraq, the court will implement measures and issue arrest warrants against current occupants in accordance to Article 438 of the Penal Code, and their statements will be taken."

Baghdad Beituna [Baghdad Our Home], an NGO, estimated that there have been more than 7,000 violations against properties belonging to Iraqi Christians in Baghdad since 2003.

Saad Jassim, the group's director, said that most of the Christians who had left Iraq for Europe had had their homes stolen. Since then, their ownership was transferred, and the homes are now occupied by militia commanders and politicians in or close to power, as he said.

He said that the Our Lady of Charity church in Baghdad had been turned into the Imam al-Sadiq religious school, without any legal process.

Hassan Menhem, a former legal adviser to the Baghdad Centre for Democratic Studies, told al-Araby al-Jadeed that dozens of high-profile figures could be brought to justice in the event the judiciary deals with the case on legal rather than political grounds.

He said: "The issue is a humanitarian and ethical one above all else. If the judiciary deals with this as a criminal matter away from politics, dozens of leaders will be thrown in jail."

This is an edited translation of the original Arabic.