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Five Years Later, Where are the Christians in Iraq ?

ICC Note

“Our Iraqi sisters and brothers in Christ live each day under the threat of violence and death,”

By Michelle A. Vu

Wed, Mar. 19 2008 Iraq (The Christian Post)-It’s been exactly five years since President Bush gave the green light for the Iraq war, which, aside from toppling former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, has resulted in the disappearance of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christians from their ancestral homeland.

But the conflict has also claimed many other victims, including a disproportionate number of Iraqi Christians.

Christians have always been a minority in Iraq , making up only about three percent of the country’s population before the U.S.-led offensive in 2003. But their numbers plummeted thereafter, dropping from 1.2 million before the war to about 600,000 currently remaining in the country.

Besides security and economic concerns shared by all Iraqis, Christians face the additional burden of being targeted by extremists who mostly kidnap them in exchange for ransom money. Kidnappers are said to believe that Iraqi Christians have relatives living abroad and can easily request financial help from relatives to meet the ransom demand.

However, other militants attack Christians because they falsely associate them with the West and U.S. forces, believing that since America and the West are “Christian” nations then Iraqi Christians must be their allies.

Nina Shea, a commissioner with the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), recently criticized the Bush administration for not acknowledging that Christians and other “defenseless” minorities are persecuted because of their faith.

USCIRF is a bipartisan government agency assigned the task of monitoring religious freedom in the world and giving policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State and Congress.

“No policies exist to address their (Christians and minorities) specific needs in Iraq or facilitate their finding refuge abroad,” wrote Shea in the National Review earlier this month. “No programs exist to train and support them to police their own villages – more critical than ever now that the military surge has flushed terror northward.

“No checks are in place to ensure that their villages in Nineveh and elsewhere in the north share equitably in U.S. largesse,” she continued. “No senior administration official has ever even met to hear the views of their American leaders as a group and forge solutions.”

The Nineveh Plains is the ancestral homeland of Assyrian Christians – the largest Christian group in Iraq – and is the area where thousands of Christians from the cities have resettled to escape persecution.

“Our Iraqi sisters and brothers in Christ live each day under the threat of violence and death,” the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches USA, said in response to the death of Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho last week. “All Christians and persons of faith pray for their safety, even as we remind the Iraq government of its urgent responsibility to protect all Iraqis.”

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