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Operation Iraqi Freedom and Christians in Iraq
By Navaid Hamid

The attack on the Christian minority on Black Sunday evening of 31 October 2010 at Baghdad Catholic church of Our Lady of Salvation and subsequent killings of 52 innocents including women, children and the old needs strongest condemnation from all.

The attack no doubt is a heinous crime against humanity. The tragedy was result of the siege of the Church by the terrorists and the attempt by the security forces to free the hostages. The incidents have left more than 60 wounded.

With the murderous attack, the safety of the Iraq's Christian minority has become critical and it is the prime responsibility not only of the regime in Baghdad but also that of the allied forces led by United States of America to restore confidence and provide safety to minorities in Iraq because never in the history of the Iraq, the minorities were so vulnerable as during the present regime backed by the US.

The biggest victims and the sufferers of the Iraq's invasion have been its minorities and they have become easy target for the terrorist attacks in their own country.

There are reports that around four hundred thousand Iraq's Christians have fled their homeland and migrated to US and other European countries and taken asylum therein because of their vulnerable position in their own country.

Operation Iraqi freedom has made the Christians most vulnerable to hate crimes and in words of Catholic Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk "He who is not a Muslim in Iraq is a second-class citizen. Often it is necessary to convert or emigrate, otherwise one risks being killed."

The centuries old patriotism of the Irqi minority community has suddenly become doubtful and they face unprecedented level of violence. They are living in fear and constantly threatened, targeted, bombed and killed, abducted for ransom. Their churches are attacked because of their religious commonality with that of the invading forces.

The Iraqi Christians who are Armenians and Chaldo-Assyrians basically belong to one of the four churches namely the Chaldean (Uniate), Jacobite or Syrian Orthodox, Nestorian, and the Syrian Catholic.

The unfortunate incident is in continuity to what had happened since 2003. In past, the Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul was abducted and killed (February 2008), Assyrian Orthodox priest Father Adel Youssef was shot to death by unidentified militants in central Baghdad (April 2008). The Armenian churches have been bombed and their priests too have been killed since the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

During his Presidential campaign Obama has raised several questions about the safety and honorable representation of the religious and ethnic minorities of Iraq and have written to then Secretary of State Condolizza Rice requesting answers to many of the issues which might concern the minorities in Iraq and the most important was of their security.

"What specific steps has the State Department taken to urge the Iraqi government to provide protection to Iraq's Christian and other non-Muslim religious minorities? Has the Iraqi government been responsive to requests for such protection? What is the U.S. government's assessment of the Iraqi government's efforts to protect religious minority communities?" Obama had asked the then Secretary of State.

Now when President Obama is in middle of his tenure, unfortunately neither the exodus of Christians from Iraq had stopped nor have they got the sense of security which they are in urgent need of.

During Saddam's regime world never got any information about the persecution of the Christians or any other religious minority nor did they ever complain of any ill treatment. Although the world community was aware of Saddam's repressive persecution of fellow Muslims Kurds and Shia, the religious minorities were free to trade in liquor and profess their religion & follow their customs without any fear. The community which was around 1.4 million during Saddam's regime has dwindled to less than one hundred thousand in 2010.

Christian Solidarity International has claimed that "Since the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime, more than half the country's Christian population has been forced by targeted violence to seek refuge abroad or to live away from their homes as internally displaced people".

The terrorists who attacked the Catholic Church had justified their act by declaring that the Church was "base for their struggle against the religion of Islam."

The Christians of Iraq are paying a heavy price of the Iraq's invasion. It is fact that they are on the verge of extinction in Iraq.

Navaid Hamid is secretary, South Asian Council for Minorities (SACM)


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