Obama Has Real Opportunity to Press Iraq on Christian Persecution, Human Rights, USCIRF Says

President Barack Obama has a real opportunity to speak out for Christian and religious persecution as well as human rights when he meets with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Friday afternoon at the White House, said the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

"As you know, over the past year Iraq has experienced the worst sectarian violence since 2008, with the frequency and scope of such violence increasing. This violence is undermining Iraq's progress and threatening its people's safety, particularly the majority Shi'a Muslim population, as well as its smallest religious minority communities, including Christians and Yezidis," USCIRF Chairman Robert P. George said in his letter to Obama.

Major cities across Iraq have been plagued by relentless violence, often in the form of explosives.  In the past year, and the violence has spread in the last few months to the northern regions of the country, which had previously been considered a place of refuge for Christians and other religious minorities.

The bombings in Northern Iraq has caused Christians to flee in panic, watchdog group Open Doors USA has reported, with a number of attacks targeting followers of Christ in particular. Christians in villages in Northern Iraq have also complained about harassment from police.

"It remains urgent to pray for the future of Christianity in this country," Open Doors said. "If the present trend continues, there might be no Christian left in the whole of Iraq by 2020."

USCIRF noted that the Iraqi government has been unable to stop such sectarian attacks, and has failed to investigate these violent incidents and bring the perpetrators to justice.

"This has created a climate of impunity and a perpetual sense of fear for all religious communities, particularly the smallest ones," George continued.

"In addition, the dispute between the central government and Kurdish parties over territory in the north has led to human rights abuses, particularly against the smallest minorities in those areas."

The USCIRF chairman insisted that if Iraq is to become a stable democracy, it must take greater efforts to ensure that human rights and religious freedom of all Iraqis is both guaranteed and enforced.

"We hope you agree that discussing the problems of sectarian tensions, violence, and human rights abuses in Iraq with Prime Minister al-Maliki is essential," the letter concluded. "Without addressing these concerns, religious freedom in Iraq will continue to erode and the country will not have the peaceful, democratic future that its people deserve and the United States seeks to encourage."

The USCIRF has written to Obama on numerous occasions before, including a request to look into the unprecedented sectarian attacks against Christians in Egypt earlier this summer, and a call for Obama to speak with Chinese President Xi Jinping on China's bad record on human rights abuses.