Iraq VP Urges Christians to Stay; Pledges Protection

The vice president of Iraq, Adel Abdul Mahdi, urged the country's Christian population to resist fleeing Iraq and called on the international community to help protect the dwindling minority group from extremists.

Since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, some 250,000 to 500,000 Christians have left the country. Christians, although making up only three percent of Iraq's population, account for nearly half of the refugees leaving Iraq, according to the U.N. High Commission for Refugees.

"The position of Iraqi Christians is vulnerable and Iraq must not be left alone to face this. It's a collective task," said Abdul Mahdi, a Shiite Muslim, at a conference hosted by the French Institute of International Relations in Paris on Wednesday, according to Agence France-Presse.

"Christians are an integral part of Iraq," he said. "We need to help Iraq and help Christians remain in Iraq."

Iraq's Christian population has mostly fled to neighboring countries such as Syria and Jordan, but has also been granted refuge in Western countries including France, Germany, and the United States.

Members of the tiny Christian population are forced to leave their homeland because of daily physical threats to their life. More than 200 Christians have been killed, dozens of churches bombed, and countless believers have been kidnapped for ransom money since 2003.

Last year, six Christians were killed in less than a week in the northern city of Mosul, including three Christian men murdered within 24 hours.

The murders spread fear throughout the Christian community in Mosul and resulted in more than 15,000 Christians fleeing the city over a period of two week.

Also last year, the second most senior Catholic cleric in Iraq, Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho, was kidnapped and then murdered in Mosul.

"The suffering of Iraqi Christians has been beyond description and is not yet over. More than ever, the Iraqi Christians need our prayer and support," said Jonathan Racho, International Christian Concern's regional manager for Africa and the Middle East, in a recent statement.

"We call upon Iraqi officials and the allied forces in Iraq to avert further attacks against Iraqi Christians. It is simply unacceptable to watch the extinction of the Christian community from Iraq," he said.

Iraq is home to one of the oldest Christian communities in the world. Many religious freedom groups have warned that if nothing is done soon the Christian population in Iraq will likely disappear.

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