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Whither Iraqi Christians?

Baghdad -- Christians have become Iraq's victims of choice, reports Lawrence F. Kaplan in The New Republic magazine (April 3, 2006). "Sunni, Shia and Kurd may agree on little else, but all have made sport of brutalizing their Christian neighbours, hundreds of whom have been slaughtered since the U.S. invasion," he writes.

Iraq's 1800-year-old Christian community, now an estimated 400,000, down from 550,000-600,000 prior to the U.S. invasion, consists mainly of Easternrite Chaldean Catholics and Assyrian Orthodox. These communities are dwindling by the day. Already during Saddam Hussein's brutal regime there was an exodus, even though there was religious freedom. Today the threats come from Islamic fundamentalists. Some prominent Christian clergymen try to downplay the current exodus, in fear of further inciting their tormentors.

The U.S. refuses to provide Iraqi Christians protection of any kind, such as refugee status. Kidnappings, assassinations and church bombings have become common. The reason for these persecutions, Kaplan suggests, lies in the Christians' perceived ties to Western powers occupying Iraq. Christians who work alongside Americans in Baghdad, for example, are routinely executed. A recent CD circulating in the city of Mosul features the beheading of Christians. American Evangelical Protestants shoulder some of the blame for the situation. Their infusions of aggressive missionaries and pamphlets serve to enrage Iraqi Muslims.

Islamists have also attacked Christians who are the predominant owners of liquor, music, and fashion stores, as well as beauty salons. Christian women are threatened unless they cover their heads in Islamic fashion. The U.S. Department of State's International Religious Freedom Report 2005 claims there have been "improvements" with respect to religious, freedom in Iraq since the U.S. invasion, but not necessarily for Christians. The government has not engaged in the persecution of any religious group and has called for tolerance and respect for all religious minorities. However, "conservative and extremist Islamic elements continue to exert tremendous pressure on other groups to conform to radical interpretations of Islam's precepts," says the report. The Shi'ite majority, meanwhile, is also demanding the introduction of Islamic Sharia law.

Baghdad's Chaldean Auxiliary Bishop, Andraos Abouna, recently gave his bleakest assessment yet of the situation in Iraq, saying Christians live in fear of their lives, and despair is driving more and more of them out of the country. "When you look inside the churches, they are full of Christians," he said. "But when you go outside, you feel that Christians are finished in Iraq" (Zenit, March 30, 2006). Chaldean Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly of Baghdad has proposed days of fasting and prayer for peace in Iraq.

The New York Sun's Daniel Pipes (August 24, 2004) said the decline of Christianity in Iraq is being mirrored in the Middle East as a whole. At present rates, the area's 11 million Christians will, in a decade or two, have lost their cultural vitality and political significance.

A National Post editorial (March 29, 2006) described the situation of Christians in the Middle East as "dire" and lamented the short shrift this is being given in Western media. It referred to troubling anti-Christian incidents in Pakistan, Indonesia and Algeria. "When other groups are persecuted to this extent, the world rarely turns a blind eye. Our willingness to do so in the case of Christians is shameful," the paper said.

ACTION: Readers, please write the Departments of Immigration and Foreign Affairs and demand that Iraqi Christians be given refugee status. Please contact your local MP.
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Publication:Catholic Insight
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:May 1, 2006
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