(AINA) -- The Assyrian American National Coalition is pressing President Obama and Congress to preserve Iraq's indigenous Assyrian population from continued terrorist attacks designed to destroy Assyrian communities by prompting mass flight, which is a form of ethnic cleansing. The most recent siege by the Islamic State of Iraq on Our Lady of Deliverance Syriac Catholic Church in Baghdad claimed 52 lives of Syriac Catholics, and panicked thousands (AINA 11-2-2010), leading to an accelerated exodus of Assyrians (also known as Chaldeans and Syriacs).
There was a resolution (see below) within the US Congress that passed in February 2010 calling for the Secretary of State to protect Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq, but nothing was done and it is up to the new Congress, including Senator-elect Mark Kirk of Illinois, to urge the State Department to divert its massive resources to deal with this situation. The State Department is spending $1.715 billion in Iraq this year, can it not do more to prevent large-scale massacres? When will it turn its attention to practical steps to halt and reverse the extinction of entire local populations of religious minorities, from the (Assyrians) to the Mandaeans of Baghdad and southern Iraq to the Yezidis of Ninewa province? After the head of the Islamic State of Iraq was arrested in 2009, he confessed that his army has been funded by Syria, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, as well as by extortions or contributions from Iraqi government employees' salaries. Where were American diplomats?
There is a history of both congressional and State Department inaction and indifference when it comes to the mass slaughter of Iraq's religious minorities. Despite showering billions of dollars on armed Arab and Kurdish groups like the Dawa Party and the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the State Department dragged its feet in distributing the paltry $10 million that Congress designated for the relief of Assyrians and other religious minorities, such as the Mandaeans and Yezidis. The Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act passed by Congress in 2007 failed to provide similar priority status for persecuted religious or minority communities who lacked family members in the United States that it offered to Iraqis who were employed in Iraq by the U.S. government, a U.S. media company or NGO.
Activists for democracy in Iraq, including not only Assyrians but many Arabs and Kurds, placed themselves at extreme risk in expressing support for an end to the Ba'athist dictatorship imposed on Iraq by Western powers starting in 1963. Most notably, Assyrians participated along with Arabs, Kurds, and Turkomans in the Future of Iraq Project (AINA 10-31-2002), whose detailed plan for a relatively secular and forward-looking democratic government. After dozens of Assyrians were (massacred and dozens of churches bombed between 2003 and 2006 Assyrians, the State Department continued to thwart efforts to implement indigenous autonomy and policing (AINA 6-24-2006), as prevails on Native American reservations since at least the nineteenth century. The time has come to implement the right of the Assyrian people, as the remnant of the indigenous population of Iraq, to cultural, political, and religious autonomy. Congresspersons Anna Eshoo, Mark Kirk, Ron Klein, Sheila Jackson-Lee, Michael McMahon, Ileana Ros-Lehtinian, Janice Schakowsky, and Frank Wolf deserve the thanks of all Assyrians for making a start.
Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives on religious minorities in Iraq
Madam Speaker, I move to suspend the rules and agree to the resolution (H. Res. 944) expressing the sense of the House of Representatives on religious minorities in Iraq, as amended.
The Clerk read the title of the resolution. *H676
The text of the resolution is as follows:
H. RES. 944
Resolved, That it is the sense of the House of Representatives that
The SPEAKER pro tempore.
Pursuant to the rule, the gentleman from New York (Mr. McMahon) and the gentlewoman from Florida (Ms. Ros-Lehtinen) each will control 20 minutes.
The Chair recognizes the gentleman from New York.
Madam Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that all Members may have 5 legislative days to revise and extend their remarks and to include extraneous material on the resolution under consideration.
The SPEAKER pro tempore.
Is there objection to the request of the gentleman from New York?
There was no objection.
Mr. McMAHON. I rise in strong support of this resolution, and I yield myself such time as I may consume.
Madam Speaker, H. Res. 944 expresses the sense of the House of Representatives on the status of religious minorities in Iraq.
When the Iraq war began in 2003, little thought was given to the impact on Iraq's religious minorities. Only 3 percent of the population in Iraq is non-Muslim. These populations include Christians, Yazidis, Sabian-Mandaeans, Baha'is, Shabaks, Kaka'is, and a very small number of Jews.
Although the new Iraqi Constitution recognizes Islam as the official religion of Iraq, it also states that no law may be enacted that contradicts principles of democracy or the rights and basic *H677 freedoms stipulated in the constitution. The constitution also guarantees freedom of thought, conscience, and religious belief and practice for both Muslims and non-Muslims.
Although the Iraqi Government generally respects these rights, ongoing violence restricts the free exercise of religion, and this violence poses a significant threat to the country's vulnerable religious minorities. These minorities continue to suffer at the hands of terrorists, extremists, criminal gangs, and even at the hands of unsavory elements within the Iraqi Government. Sectarian violence, including attacks on religious leaders and religious places of worship, continues to hamper their ability to practice religion freely.
Many experts consider the situation for Iraqi Christians as especially dire. According to Chaldean Catholic Auxiliary Bishop Andreos Abouna of Baghdad, the number of Christians in Iraq may have been cut in half since 2003. As documented by the State Department, Christians have been threatened with violence if they do not leave their homes. They have been accosted on the streets and have even been assassinated. Their churches have been bombed and destroyed.
Reports indicate that other religious minorities face similarly treacherous situations. The Yazidis, who are considered heretical by many Muslims because of their beliefs, have suffered under a tremendous onslaught of violence. Another targeted group, the Sabian-Mandaeans, numbered about 60,000 in 2003. Today, only about 5,000 Sabian-Mandaeans remain in Iraq, meaning that more than 90 percent have left the country or have been killed.
That is why we are considering House Resolution 944 today, and that is why I am proud to say that I am an original cosponsor of that resolution.
This resolution urges the Government of Iraq to enhance security in places of worship in Iraq, particularly where religious minorities are known to be at risk. The resolution calls for the urgent training of an appropriate number of security forces to protect religious minorities. It also urges the Iraqi Government to take affirmative measures to reverse the legal, political and economic marginalization of religious minorities in Iraq. In addition, it asks the United States to consider implementing programs for religious minorities as part of its overall economic assistance to Iraq.
Madam Speaker, I urge all of my colleagues to support this resolution in an effort to make certain that all religions survive and have a chance to prosper in the new Iraq.
Madam Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.
Madam Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
I also rise in support of House Resolution 944, and I want to thank the gentleman from Michigan (Mr.Peters) and the gentleman from Virginia (Mr. Wolf) for bringing this important human rights issue before us today.
The protection of members of vulnerable religious and ethnic minorities, including the smallest minority groups, is integral to the future of Iraq as a free and stable country. Iraq is home to ancient and diverse Catholic, Orthodox, and other Christian groups, including Chaldean, Assyrian, Syriac, and Armenian Christians, among many others. They have been targeted for kidnapping and murder by radical Islamic extremists. Various credible sources estimate that more than half of Iraq's Christians have already fled the country during the last several years.
However, these dangers are certainly not confined to Christians. The Baha'i faith remains prohibited in Iraq, and Iraq's ancient and once-flourishing Jewish community has reportedly dwindled to fewer than a dozen people.
All of us understand that Iraq's young democracy faces many challenges, including its own threats from insurgents and other extremists. But the marginalization, the displacement, the violence that threatens Iraq's minority communities also endanger the vitality and the inclusiveness of Iraqi society as a whole.
We must strive to ensure that the work that we and our allies do helps to build Iraq's capacity and commitment to protect its minority citizens, and we must encourage the Government of Iraq to ensure that its forthcoming elections are an opportunity to reinforce the growth of democracy and freedom in that country. Those elections should be safe, should be fair, should be transparent so that all Iraqis, including members of these vulnerable religious and ethnic minority communities, can participate. And we must not let members of those minorities under siege think that they are alone or that they are forgotten.
For these reasons, Madam Speaker, I am grateful for this resolution, which deserves our unanimous support.
Madam Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.
Madam Speaker, at this time I yield 3 minutes to the prime sponsor of this resolution, the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Peters).
Madam Speaker, I thank the gentleman from New York for yielding the time.
While the majority of Iraqis are Muslim, there are many communities of religious and ethnic minorities whose history in Iraq goes back thousands of years. This includes Chaldeans, Syriacs, Assyrians, and other Christians, as well as Sabian Mandeans and Yazidis.
Since 2003, approximately 21/2 million refugees and asylum seekers have fled Iraq, and millions more have become displaced, forced to flee their homes and neighborhoods because of sectarian violence. In fact, there were approximately 11/2 million Christians in Iraq in 2003, and today there is less than half of that amount.
Many of these Iraqis would like nothing more than to return home. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, in 2008, approximately 221,000 Iraqis returned to their home village or neighborhood in Iraq and the vast majority settled into areas where members of their own religious community controlled the neighborhood or local government.
Unfortunately, Iraqi religious minorities do not have militia or tribal structures to defend themselves, and they do not receive adequate protection from the police or security forces. Not only does this make the possibility of return nearly impossible for Iraqi religious minorities, it also leaves them particularly vulnerable to violence.
Iraqi Christians and other religious minorities are often specifically targeted in gruesome and random acts of violence such as murder, rape, and abductions. This includes the Chaldean community, who this week is mourning the kidnapping and murder of Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho on February 29, 2008.
Archbishop Rahho spent almost his entire life living in Mosul and serving its Christian communities which are among the oldest and largest in Iraq. For years, the archbishop was threatened with violence because he spoke out against discrimination against Christians by Muslim extremists. Sadly, the archbishop was murdered because he refused to lend the support of his church to terrorists in their fight against U.S. forces in Iraq.
These stories continue to be tragically common, and more must be done by the United States Government and by the Government of Iraq to protect religious minorities.
This resolution calls upon the United States and the Iraqi Government to protect religious minorities by encouraging free and fair elections, training Iraqi security forces, and providing safe places to worship. It also seeks an investigation into human rights violations and calls for an end to the abuse of Iraqi religious minorities. Finally, the resolution calls for the United States to work with the Iraqi Government to ensure the physical and economic safety of those wishing to return to Iraq.
I would like to thank my colleagues, Mr. Wolf and Ms. Eshoo, who, as co-Chairs of the Religious Minorities in the Middle East Caucus, have shown great leadership on this issue and for their support of this resolution. I would also like to thank Chairman
Berman and Ranking Member
Ros-Lehtinen for their support and for their staffs' work in helping me bring this resolution forward today.
It is no longer possible to stand by and watch as millions of religious minorities are subject to torture, abuse, and discrimination, which is why I ask my colleagues to support this important resolution. *H678
Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to yield 4 minutes to the gentleman from Virginia (Mr. Wolf), the co-Chair of the Tom Lantos Congressional Human Rights Commission and the coauthor of this important measure.
(Mr. WOLF asked and was given permission to revise and extend his remarks.)
I thank the gentlewoman for yielding the time.
I want to support the comments that have been made by Members of both sides and let Members think about it for a moment. With the exception of Israel, the Bible, the Bible contains more references to the cities, the regions, and the nations of ancient Iraq than any other country. The patriarch Abraham came from the city of Ur. I actually visited the site, when the war began, of the location of Abraham's house. Isaac's bride, Rebekah, came from northwest Iraq. Jacob spent 20 years in Iraq, and his sons, the 12 tribes of Israel, were born in northwest Iraq. A remarkable spiritual revival as told in the Book of Jonah occurred in Nineveh. The events of the Book of Esther took place in Iraq, as did the account of Daniel in the lion's den.
So all of these religious things have taken place, and yet people have almost forgotten about Iraq. And the previous speaker in his comments has said the Christian community in these areas has been going through tremendous pressure.
I have appreciated Ambassador Chris Hill's commitment to this issue. In recent correspondence, he indicated that the security of the Christian community remains one of his paramount concerns, especially in light of attacks directed at Christian churches in Baghdad and Mosul over the past 5 months.
But there needs to be leadership from the highest levels within the State Department as well. We've long advocated both during the previous administration and the current one that the U.S. needs to adopt a comprehensive policy to address the unique situation of these defenseless minorities. This resolution, and I thank both sides for bringing it up, urges the Secretary of State to develop such a strategy.
In closing, let me just say it is time for this administration to start taking religious freedom seriously. The position of U.S. Ambassador for International Religious Freedom has been vacant, has been vacant for over a year. Did anyone hear? There is no ambassador for religious freedom that has been appointed by this administration. The position has been vacant, vacant for 1 year. Yet we see the persecution of the Coptic Christians in Egypt, the Assyrian Christians in Iraq, the Catholic Church in China, the Catholic Church in Vietnam, on and on. So we want to see this administration have an ambassador who can advocate, as the resolution calls for, to help Chris Hill and helps others to speak out and advocate. But the very fact that there has been no ambassador appointed for over 13 months kind of tells the story. Personnel, personnel is policy, and if there's no personnel, it's not a good policy.
Let me just end. I want to thank the gentlemen on both sides and the gentlewoman for speaking. And I hope there's a rollcall vote on this. I hope we have to vote up and down so we can send a message to the Assyrian Christians and those who are going through tremendous persecution wondering whether anybody in the West cares.
Madam Speaker, I have no further requests for time, and I yield back the balance of my time.
Madam Speaker, I do have an additional speaker in case the gentleman would like to reserve his time.
Madam Speaker, I ask unanimous consent to reclaim the balance of my time.
The SPEAKER pro tempore.
Is there objection to the request of the gentleman from New York?
There was no objection.
Madam Speaker, I now would like to yield 4 minutes to the gentleman from Tennessee (Mr. Duncan), a member of the Natural Resources, Oversight, and Transportation Committees, for his insight and the insight of his constituent who's very concerned about religious minorities in Iraq.
I thank the gentlewoman from Florida for yielding me this time.
I also want to thank all of the previous speakers: the gentleman from Michigan, the original author of the resolution; the gentleman from New York; and especially the gentleman from Virginia, Congressman
Wolf, who has been such a leader on these issues for many years now.
I rise in strong support of H. Res. 944, expressing the sense of the House of Representatives on religious minorities in Iraq.
While this bill calls attention to various religious minorities in Iraq that are victims of acts of violence and religious persecution, one group that is extremely vulnerable, especially vulnerable, is the Iraqi Christians. In the most recent series of attacks in Iraq's northern city of Mosul, five Iraqi Christians were attacked and killed just last week in various acts of violence. According to a February 17, 2010, article from Reuters, "Bombings and shootings are recorded almost daily in the violent northern city of Mosul, where the situation has been described by one Christian priest as 'miserable.' Iraqi Christians are forced to hide in their homes in fear of being the next victim of what is being called a 'systematic campaign of violence against minorities.' And Sunni Islamist insurgent groups have labeled Christians and other Iraqi minorities as devil worshipers and infidels."
There is growing concern, Madam Speaker, of even more violence and killings in the wake of the upcoming elections in March. These attacks are being used as a means of intimidation to discourage Iraqi Christians from voting in the upcoming elections. There have also been threats of violence using military means to prevent the elections from happening at all.
I first spoke out about the violence against Christians in Iraq that last year when one of my constituents and a native of Iraq, Susan Dakak, brought to my attention the escalation of violence against this particular religious group. I also met recently, a few weeks ago, with a member of the Iraqi Parliament, Yonadom Kanna, recently to discuss the ongoing persecution of Iraqi Christians.
The horrendous human rights violations and acts against religious minorities must end. The United States should do as much as possible to help stop the discrimination against and persecution of the Christian community in Iraq, and this resolution will be a meaningful step in that direction.
I urge my colleagues to support this resolution.
Ms. JACKSON LEE of Texas.
Madam Speaker, I rise today in support of H. Res. 944-"Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives on religious minorities in Iraq." As a cosponsor of this resolution, I join my colleagues in expressing my concern about the plight of vulnerable religious and ethnic minorities of Iraq, and we are particularly concerned for the Chaldeans, Syriacs, Assyrians, and other Christians, Sabean Mandeans, Yazidis, Baha'is, Jews, and Muslim ethnic minorities, the Shabak and Turkomen, and other religious and ethnic minorities of Iraq.
Political and religious freedom in Iraq is a vital concern with regards to the nation and region. When we envision the long-term peace and security of Iraq, we envision a country with a strong, functioning democracy that respects the rights of all citizens. That vision is not a product of the imperialism of Western ideas; the tradition of religious plurality has roots in the history and religious beliefs of the Iraqi people. But, although Iraq has a strong history of multiculturalism, it must not rest on this reputation. The rights of minorities in Iraq are not fully protected, and the Iraqi government can and must do more to protect the rights of its minorities.
The degree to which Iraq protects those rights is a reflection on our country. Because of the United States' unfortunate detour from our struggle against terrorism into Iraq, the actions of the new government of Iraq directly reflect upon us. So far, I believe that the actions of the government of Iraq with respect to political and religious freedoms are problematic.
In no case is the Iraqi government's treatment of minorities more troubling than their treatment of the residents of Camp Ashraf. Although Camp Ashraf is halfway around the world, the conditions there affect Americans, including in my own district and throughout the state of Texas where some of my constituents have family members in Camp Ashraf. For example, my constituent, Mitra Sohrabi, has a brother who is currently detained in Camp Ashraf, and worries about his health on a daily *H679 basis. I also know many people in Houston and throughout the state of Texas who were affected directly by the July 2009 raid on Camp Ashraf.
Late last year, three months after U.S. forces turned over control of Camp Ashraf, Iraqi Security Forces violated the human rights of the People's Mujahideen of Iran (PMOI). Camp Ashraf detains over 3,400 exiled Iranian political dissidents, who are members of the PMOI, including over 1,000 women. The PMOI opposes the current Iranian regime, and for their political beliefs they have been exiled from Iran and sequestered in Camp Ashraf. Several women detained at Camp Ashraf have reported acts of intimidation and threats of physical and sexual violence by members of the Iraqi security forces.
On July 28, 2009, Iraqi Security Forces conducted a raid on the detainees at Camp Ashraf. The raid occurred fewer than three months after the U.S. passed control of Camp Ashraf to the government of Iraq. The raid began on Tuesday, July 28th when Iraqi armored vehicles began attacks against the Iranian prisoners. The attacks continued for two full days and resulted in the death of 11 exiles and the injury of over 400 more. As a result of the raid on Camp Ashraf, 36 men were arrested under allegations of violent behavior. The 36 arrested Camp Ashraf residents have since been freed, but the United States has a continuing interest in ensuring that the events of July 28th never occur again.
Although most of the residents of Camp Ashraf were not religious minorities, the Iraqi government's treatment of the camp's residents sets a dangerous example. In recent years, there have been alarming numbers of religiously motivated killings, abductions, beatings, rapes, threats, intimidation, forced conversions, marriages, and displacement from homes and businesses, and attacks on religious leaders, pilgrims, and holy sites, in Iraq, with the smallest religious minorities in Iraq having been among the most vulnerable, although Iraqis from many religious communities, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, have suffered in this violence. In summary, members of small religious minority communities in Iraq do not have militia or tribal structures to defend them, do not receive adequate official protection, and are legally, politically, and economically marginalized.
This resolution will remind the Iraqi government that minorities of any type-be it race, religion, political affiliation, or difference of thought-are integral components of a robust civil society and a true democracy. I have faith that Iraq can and will achieve such a democracy, but we must remember that building democracy requires more than a constitution-it requires a commitment to democratic principles.
Madam Speaker. I rise tonight in support of H. Res. 44, a resolution expressing concern about the situation facing religious minorities in Iraq. I'd like to thank my colleague, Congressman
Peters, for introducing this resolution, and for being a persistent champion on this important issue.
I am proud to cosponsor this resolution, which encourages the United States government, the Iraqi government, and the international community to take positive steps to protect Iraqi religious minorities.
Nearly seven years after the U.S.-led invasion, Iraq faces one of the largest displacement crises in the world. The country's religious minorities face a particularly desperate situation. Iraqi ethno-religious minorities, including Iraqi Jews as well as Assyrians, Chaldeans, and Syriac Christians, continue to face targeted killings, sexual assaults, abductions, and other forms of threats and violence. They comprise a disproportionately large percentage of the over 4 million Iraqis who have been displaced by the ongoing violence and instability.
Those who flee Iraq often encounter a life of crippling poverty. Many have great difficulty finding work in their new countries and often cannot support their families. They may bear physical and emotional scars as a result of years of trauma, tragedy, and abuse. Those who stay in Iraq, on the other hand, face a life of constant fear, intimidation, and outright violence.
I have a longstanding concern for Iraq's ethno-religious minorities. In particular, I have worked closely with Chicago's vibrant Assyrian community on efforts to protect Iraqi religious minorities and provide opportunities for refugees. In August of last year I wrote to Secretary Clinton, urging her to develop a comprehensive plan for protecting these groups. This critical issue is crying out for the attention it deserves.
That's why this resolution is so important. The protection of ethno-religious minorities must be a component of our overall strategy in Iraq, and the United States government must do more in partnership with the Iraqi government and the rest of the international community to ensure that all Iraqis, regardless of religious affiliation, can live free of fear and intimidation.
Madam Speaker, I rise today in support of House Resolution 944. I commend Representative
Peters for his valuable work with the Caucus on Religious Minorities in the Middle East, which, together with my colleague Representative
Frank Wolf, I am proud to co-chair. The second anniversary of the kidnapping and brutal murder of the Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul is a fitting time to remember our responsibility to these vulnerable groups both during and in the aftermath of the war.
As an Assyrian American, I am deeply disturbed by the ongoing struggle Iraq's minorities face each day. There have been dozens of church burnings, kidnappings, and random acts of violence against Assyrians, Chaldeans, Syriacs, and numerous other minority groups and this Resolution calls on the Iraqi government to take meaningful action to address their plight.
Last year, we took an important step by appropriating $10 million to assist Iraq's minorities in the Nineveh Plains region. I'm pleased that today's Resolution calls on the Iraqi government to protect the people in that area. Madam Speaker, for the sake of a free and pluralistic Iraq, I urge a "yes" vote on today's Resolution.
I have no further requests for time, and I yield back the balance of my time.
Madam Speaker, I have no further requests for time, and I yield back the remainder of my time.
The SPEAKER pro tempore.
The question is on the motion offered by the gentleman from New York (Mr. McMahon) that the House suspend the rules and agree to the resolution, H. Res. 944, as amended.
The question was taken.
The SPEAKER pro tempore.
In the opinion of the Chair, two-thirds being in the affirmative, the ayes have it.
Madam Speaker, I object to the vote on the ground that a quorum is not present and make the point of order that a quorum is not present.
The SPEAKER pro tempore.
Pursuant to clause 8 of rule XX and the Chair's prior announcement, further proceedings on this motion will be postponed.
The point of no quorum is considered withdrawn.
156 Cong. Rec. H675-01
Congressional Record --- Extension of Remarks
Proceedings and Debates of the 111st Congress, Second Session
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Material in Extension of Remarks was not spoken by a Member on the floor.
In the House of Representatives
*E219 EXPRESSING THE SENSE OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES ON RELIGIOUS MINORITIES IN IRAQ
HON. FRANK R. WOLF OF VIRGINIA
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Madam Speaker, I rise in support of H. Res. 944 and thank the Chair and Ranking Member for their efforts to bring this to the floor for consideration at such a pivotal time in Iraq.
A February 6 ABC News story opened with the following observation: "Across the Middle East, where Christianity was born and its followers once made up a sizable portion of the population, Christians are now tiny minorities."
This is perhaps no more true than in Iraq. With the exception of Israel, the Bible contains more references to the cities, regions and nations of ancient Iraq than any other country. The patriarch Abraham came from a city in Iraq called Ur. Isaac's bride, Rebekah, came from northwest Iraq. Jacob spent 20 years in Iraq and his sons (the 12 tribes of Israel) were born in northwest Iraq. A remarkable spiritual revival as told in the book of Jonah occurred in Nineveh. The events of the book of Esther took place in Iraq as did the account of Daniel in the Lion's Den.
Tragically Iraq's ancient Christian community is facing extinction. The U.N. High Commission for Refugees estimates that some 250,000 to 500,000 Christians have left the country since 2003, or about half the Christian population. According to the bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), "while Christians and other religious minorities represented only approximately 3 percent of the pre-2003 Iraqi population, they constitute approximately 15 and 20 percent of registered Iraqi refugees in Jordan and Syria, respectively, and Christians account for 35 and 64 percent, respectively, of all registered Iraqi refugees in Lebanon and Turkey."
It is critical to note, as the figures above indicate, that the violence and intimidation that Iraq's Christians and other vulnerable ethno-religious communities have faced is targeted. In July 2008, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Migration & Refugee Services said this about the minority religious communities: "These groups, whose home has been what is now Iraq for many centuries, are literally being obliterated-not because they are fleeing generalized violence but because they are being specifically and viciously victimized by Islamic extremists and, in some cases, common criminals."
Reports indicate that since 2003, more than 200 Christians have been killed in Iraq, and since June 2004, 65 churches have been attacked or bombed. The situation facing these minority communities is not improving. In fact there has been a recent uptick in violence in the lead up to the elections in Iraq. A Reuters story last week reported that, "With Iraq's March 7 parliamentary vote looming, a spike in attacks against Christians could be a sign of voter intimidation by factions in the bitter Kurd-Arab dispute, or another attempt by al Qaeda to derail the election."
I have appreciated Ambassador Chris Hill's commitment to this issue. In recent correspondence he indicated that "the security of the Christian community remains one of my paramount concerns, especially in light of attacks directed at Christian churches in Baghdad and Mosul over the past five months."
But there needs to be leadership from the highest levels within the State Department as well. I have long advocated, both during the previous administration and in the current administration, that the U.S. needs to adopt a comprehensive policy to address the unique situation of these defenseless minorities. This resolution includes language urging the Secretary of State to develop just such a strategy.
It is time for this administration to start taking religious freedom seriously. The position of U.S. ambassador for International Religious Freedom has been vacant for more than a year while other more junior posts have been filled. There's a saying in Washington that personnel is policy. When there isn't personnel, the policy inevitably suffers.
The ancient faith communities of Iraq and others enduring religious persecution worldwide deserve a voice. This resolution is a step in the right direction.
156 Cong. Rec. E219-03
By Hannibal Travis
Hannibal Travis is an Associate Professor of Law and Interim Associate Dean for Information Resources, Florida International University - College of Law.