Washington, DC -- Dr. Paul Marshall, senior fellow of Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom, testified this morning before the House International Relations Committee, on the State Department's Country Report on Religious Freedom.
Dr. Marshall spoke to growing evidence of ethnic cleansing against native ChaldoAssyrian Christians in Iraq. Tens of thousands of ChaldoAssyrians are believed to have fled Iraq since coordinated church bombings in Mosul and Baghdad during Sunday worship services on August 1. Approximately 800,000 Christians remain in Iraq, constituting the largest non-Muslim minority.
Dr. Marshall urged Congress to adopt the proposals of the ChaldoAssyrian community, including the creation of a safe haven in Iraq, as described in Article 53D of the Transitional Administrative Law.
Dr. Marshall also welcomed the addition of Saudi Arabia to the U.S. list of "countries of particular concern." He criticized the State Department's recent report on global religious freedom for failing to mention the world-wide proliferation by Saudi Arabia of an ideology of religious hatred against Christians, Jews and other religious believers considered "infidels" including moderate Muslims.
The Center for Religious Freedom is currently preparing a forthcoming report on Saudi-propagated Wahhabi materials that have been collected from mosques in the United States.
In his testimony Dr. Marshall focused on six countries: Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Eritrea, Egypt, China and Iraq.
The following is an excerpt of Dr. Marshall's testimony on Iraq (full transcript):
For understandable reasons the Report does not deal with Iraq, but I believe that it is vital to address the situation of the religious minorities there. Of course, many Iraqis irrespective of religion have been attacked and threatened by terrorists and everyone's security needs to be assured. However, the especially vulnerable Christian minority has been targeted for their faith.
Consequently, we are particularly concerned about the current situation of the ChaldoAssyrian community in Iraq. The Iraqi government and the media report that a mass exodus of ChaldoAssyrians, the native Christians from Iraq, is now underway due to targeted religious violence against them. Beheadings, kidnappings, and assassinations have been documented in recent months, including in September when six ChaldoAssyrian workers were murdered in Baghdad for "collaborating" with the United States. According to reports of the Catholic relief group, Aid to the Church in Need, over the past 18 months, more than 80 Christians have been killed at the hands of Muslim terrorists and extremists, 20 of which murders occurred last month. In September in Mosul, terrorists kidnapped and beheaded a 30-year-old Chaldean Christian, a manager of a small gift shop - the third recent beheading of members of this community. In the last month, Christian homes in the small village of Bakhdeda between Kirkuk and Mosul suffered two mortar attacks that killed and injured children sleeping in their beds. On August 1, Islamic extremists bombed five churches in Mosul and Baghdad during Sunday worship services.
In the face of such savagery, according to Iraqi government records, 40,000 ChaldoAssyrians have fled over the past two months, especially in the immediate aftermath of the August church bombings. This pattern is reminiscent of the bombing of synagogues in 1948 that eventually led to the flight of virtually the entire Iraqi Jewish community.
An estimated 800,000 ChaldoAssyrian remain in Iraq and constitute the country's largest non-Muslim minority. They form one of the nation's most moderate and educated communities. The "ethnic-cleansing" in Iraq of its Christians would diminish the country's prospects of developing as a tolerant, pluralistic and democratic society. Without a sizeable non-Muslim minority, moderate Muslims may encounter far greater intimidation in raising their voices against the imposition of the strict Islamic law favored by some prominent Islamic parties and clerics.
We urge congress to ensure that the following specific measures are taken on behalf of the ChaldoAssyrians of Iraq:
1. Establish as a safe haven for them, the administrative unit included in the Transitional Administrative Law (Article 53D). This safe haven should include the chiefly traditional community villages located near Mosul, in the Nineveh Plains.
2. Provide the ChaldoAssyrians in Iraq with direct and expedited support from the Congressionally-authorized funds for Iraq's development in order that they may rebuild their destroyed villages, roads, schools, and clinics as well as undertake start-up economic development projects. The community has been shut out of funding due to discriminatory practices that favor Muslim and Kurd groups, as well as due to general bureaucratic delays.
3. Allocate funds for the resettlement of Christian refugees. Many educated and professional young people of the ChaldoAssyrian community, in particular, have fled the country over the past year and are now living in legal limbo in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Greece and elsewhere in the Middle East.
4. Facilitate the ability of those forced to flee by the Hussein regime, or exiled in recent months, to register to vote if they are eligible.
5. Provide across the board political support against the active and passive ethnic cleansing to which they are being subjected throughout Iraq because they are Christians and because they resist complying with official demands to register with state and local governments as Kurds or Arabs.
The next few months will be critical ones as the Iraqi people undertake a census, elections and constitution writing. If the ChaldoAssyrians are now treated, as they often have by the great powers of the past, as one more inconvenient minority in the Middle East who must be sacrificed to the greater good of mollifying Arab, Kurd and Muslim sentiment, the United States will have presided over the demise of one of Iraq's, indeed the world's, most ancient religious groups and peoples. We will also have undercut our goal of reconstructing a more tolerant, democratic government in Iraq.