Iraq Ranked Second Most Dangerous Place in World for Minorities

A new report by a human rights group ranks Iraq as the second most dangerous place in the world for minorities with Somalia heading the list and Sudan following in third.

The State of the World's Minorities 2007 by Minority Rights Group International (MRG) released last week highlighted minority groups in Iraq, including Christians and women, as among the most vulnerable in the world.

Iraq is home to Christian groups such as the Chaldo-Assyrians, Syriac-speaking Orthodox Christians, Catholic and Oriental Orthodox Armenians, and Protestants. Chaldo-Assyrians make up most of Iraq's Christian population – which composes only three percent of the 26 million people in the country.

The minority report cited the September-October UNAMI (United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq) report that noted a spike in violence against all Christians in Iraq, including churches and convents being attacked by rocket and gunfire and a Syriac Orthodox priest being kidnapped and beheaded in October.

Another key concern for Iraq's Christian minority is the growing refugee crisis which has totaled more than 1.8 million people since the 2003 U.S.-led offensive. Nearly half of those seeking asylum in neighboring countries and elsewhere are Christians.

"The report confirms what has been told to us by refugees and partner organizations working with these Iraqis in the Jordanian capital," said Sharon Payt, advocacy director for World Vision Middle East/Eastern Europe Office (MEERO), in a released statement on Monday.

World Vision is carrying out both relief work through partners among Iraqi refugees in Amman, Jordan, and an advocacy strategy through World Vision offices around the Partnership and in coalition with agencies like the UNHCR.

Most of the refugees flee to neighboring Syria or Jordan.

Women are another discriminated minority in Iraq, facing a triple threat of discrimination from religion, ethnicity and gender. Many women in Iraq are non-Muslims, according to the report, and face death threats for failing to fully cover their heads and bodies to meet the strict Islamic standard.

The Women's Rights Association of Baghdad reported in March 2006 that the number of women attacked for not fully covering their heads and face has tripled since 2003.

Women are also the victims of "honor killings" due to family conflict and vulnerability when they become widows. Iraq has few opportunities for a widow to earn money and they are not allowed to drive alone without a male relative present.