When most Westerners think of Iraq, more than likely the images that come to mind are related to the U.S.-led war there, or perhaps the suffering of Iraqis trapped between warring Shiites and Sunnis, rival Muslim sects.
That would be understandable. Such images have dominated the news since the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003.
But there is a story beneath the daily images of patrolling U.S. troops or the gruesome results of roadside bombs and terrorist attacks on civilians. According to some, Iraqi Christians are facing annihilation at the hands of an increasingly militant Islam that demands submission -- or else.
There are Christians in Iraq? Westerners might think Muslim nations like Iraq are practically devoid of Christians. But at one time there were 1.5 million believers in that country -- comprising 8% of the population.
Peter BetBasoo, an Iraqi Assyrian and the director of the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA, www.aina.org), said his people -- the Assyrians -- are ethnically distinct from the Arab and Kurdish populations of Iraq. They are, in fact, the only indigenous people there, having lived in that part of the Middle East for 7,000 years.
The majority of Assyrians are Christians, and belong to three main denominations: the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East, the Syriac Orthodox Church and the Chaldean Church of Babylon.
"This distinct identity of Assyrians, especially their Christian faith, sets them apart from the rest of the population," BetBasoo said.
It has also made them the target of Muslim violence. In his report, Incipient Genocide: The Ethnic Cleansing of the Assyrians of Iraq, BetBasoo said, "A systematic campaign of persecution of [Christians]