Iraqi President: Christians Are 'Original Members' of Country

Displaced Iraq Christians who fled from Islamic State militants in Mosul, pray at a school acting as a refugee camp in Erbil September 6, 2014. | REUTERS / Ahmed Jadallah

The president of Iraq said this week that Christians are the "original" members of his nation.

During his first visit to Egypt, Iraqi president Fouad Masum, who is of Kurdish descent, told Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Tawadros II that Christians are an integral part of Iraqi heritage.

The Fides News Agency reported on the meeting between Masum and Tawadros II, saying that the two leaders agreed that "Christians are 'original members' of Iraq, as evidenced by the ancient monasteries scattered throughout the country."

 "[…] jihadi groups, such as Daesh (also known as ISIS, IS or ISIL), have raged not only against them but also against Muslim populations, as evidenced by Muslim victims – even Sunni – and the Islamic Caliphate mosques destroyed in Mosul," the news agency reported, saying that Masum believes Iraqi Christians have been "threatened by sectarian rifts and engaged in conflict with the self-styled Islamic State that have settled in Mosul since June 2014."

The two countries also discussed how to make Iraq a stable region in the Middle East, with Masum thanking Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi for his continued support in fighting the country's terrorist groups, including the Islamic State.

Iraq's presidential media group released a statement saying "Masum highlighted the importance of benefiting from the Egyptian expertise in industry, agriculture and tourism, as well as the development of cultural and academic relations between the two countries," adding that "Iraq will pass all obstacles to build a united and progressive democratic state."

The meeting came as the U.S. State Department is nearing a deadline to decide whether to label what is happening to the Christian population in Iraq and Syria as a "genocide." Last year, Congress gave the U.S. State Department a deadline of March 16 to decide to describe these atrocities as such.

The Knights of Columbus and the In Defense of Christians issued an extensive report this week that they say includes definitive evidence proving there is a genocide in the Middle East.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said last week at a House Foreign Affairs Committee meeting on Capitol Hill that "fact-gathering" needs to happen before the U.S. can label the Middle East situation as a genocide.

"It does require a lot of fact-gathering," the Secretary of State said, as reported by Fox News. "I mean you have to get the facts from the ground, more than just anecdotal."

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest has also been hesitant to use the word genocide, saying during a press conference in February that the label may pose legal issues for the U.S.

"There are lawyers considering whether or not that term can be properly applied in this scenario. What is clear and what is undeniable and what the president has now said twice in the last 24 hours is that we know that there are religious minorities in Iraq and in Syria, including Christians, that are being targeted by ISIL terrorists because of their religion and that attack on religious minorities is an attack on all people of faith and it is important for all of us to stand up and speak out about it," Earnest told reporters on February 4.

"This is an open question and one that continues to be considered by administration lawyers," Earnest added.

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