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( Middle East Online) – With more Iraqi Christians living abroad than in their home country, their divided leadership here is hoping expatriate votes will help win parliamentary seats and reaffirm the minority’s historical identity. “We’ve been here for hundreds of years. We should be regarded as first-class and not third-class citizens as we were being treated under Saddam’s regime,” said Fouad Boudagh, head of the National Caldani (Chaldean) Council. Iraqi Christians, who make up just three percent of Iraq ‘s 26 million people, are estimated to number more than one million expatriates. About 200,000 Iraqi Christians live in the US city of Detroit alone, Emanuel Shaba Yokhana of the Assyrian Patriotic party said. “They can help us win at least 15 seats in the next Iraqi National Assembly,” he said. Iraq ‘s Christians, who feel marginalized by the majority Arab Muslims, are hoping to influence the new constitution and reestablish the historical identities of the Assyrian, Chaldeans and Syriac Christians. The country’s provisional constitution, signed in March, guarantees freedom for all religions, but it has not assuaged the anxieties of the small Christian community – based mostly in Baghdad and Mosul – amid the torrent of violence and identity politics sweeping Iraq. Christian leaders say they do not think the elections will result in an Islamic state similar to the one in neighbouring Iran , and they all agree on the importance of a secular Iraqi state where freedom of faith is guaranteed.

By Salwan Binni