U.S. Called to Secure Existence of Endangered Iraqis

Imperiled Iraqi Christian Community May Face Extinction

WASHINGTON – Politicians, pundits, and the media are in a frenzy this week over Iraq as the top U.S. commander in Iraq and the U.S. ambassador to the war-torn country testify before Congress.

Troop withdrawal, Iraq government progress or lack thereof, and Sunni-Shiite violence are highly popular topics of discussion. Very little, however, has been said about one of Iraq's most endangered communities – the indigenous Christian population.

Since the 2003 U.S.-led offensive, nearly 2.2 million Iraqis have left the country. Christians, who account for only three percent of the Iraq's population, are estimated to make up nearly half of all the refugees fleeing the country, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

"The situation is more than desperate," said the Rev. Canon Andrew White, who leads one of the largest churches in Iraq, at a U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) hearing in July. "The Coalition has failed the Christians. We have done nothing to support the Christian community or the increase Christian suffering."

White is vicar of the 1,300-membered St. George's Anglican Church in Baghdad where he says the U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, attends service.

In response to the growing refugee crisis, USCIRF wrote a letter last week to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urging the U.S. government to address the serious threats to Iraq's religious minorities.

"While all Iraqis are threatened by violence, the non-Muslim minorities face particularized forms of harassment and abuse; what is more, these groups appear to suffer a degree of violent attacks and other human rights abuses disproportionate to their numbers," read the letter dated Sept. 5 and signed by Chairman Michael Cromartie on behalf of the Commission.

The letter specifically mentioned Chaldo-Assyrian Christians as one of the ancient communities facing intense persecution and possible "extinction" in Iraq. Assyrian Christians draw their lineage back to Babylonian times and are one of the oldest Christian communities in the world.

Reported abuses against Iraqi Christians include the assassinations of Christian religious leaders, bombings and destruction of churches, enforced conformity with strict Islamic dress and behavioral codes, and violent threats that have forced people from their homes, according to USCIRF.

"The situation for the non-Muslim minority communities in Iraq has gone beyond critical," emphasized the federal government agency.

"Clearly, given the U.S. government's role in the developments that have resulted in the dire situation currently facing the imperiled members of Iraq's religious minority communities, our country has a special obligation to provide them protection and thereby attempt to secure their existence in Iraq."

During his presentation to Congress, Petraeus said that the troop surge has been effective in helping to stabilize Iraq. He also said the 30,000 additional troops could come home by next July, but planning for further U.S. withdrawals would be "premature," according to CNN.

The U.S. commander in Iraq has been praised by the Rev. White for doing an "incredible job" despite the difficulties he faces working with an unstable Iraqi government and overall environment.

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