U.S. Catholic bishops urged congressmen on Monday to quickly pass a resolution that condemns the recent attack on a downtown Baghdad church and calls for a comprehensive plan to improve security for religious minorities in Iraq.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on International Justice and Peace sent the letter to sponsors of House Resolution 1725, which was introduced by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and co-sponsored by six congressmen.
"Our conference welcomes this bipartisan resolution as a way to focus attention on the situation of the vulnerable religious communities in Iraq," the bishops wrote. "In particular, we support the emphasis on developing a comprehensive plan to improve security for religious minorities and to increase their representation in the government of Iraq and to include them in all aspects of Iraqi society."
The resolution is a response to the Oct. 31 attack on worshippers at Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad that killed 58 people, including three priests, and wounded 75. The attack was the deadliest against the Assyrian Christian community since Islamic extremists began targeting them in 2003.
In the following weeks, extremists killed more people in Baghdad's Christian neighborhoods as well as in the northern city of Mosul. Two weeks ago, extremists killed a six-year-old girl and her Christian father in Mosul, which has a large Christian population. Two Christian men were also gunned down in their living room in the city.
The Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella group for Sunni Islamic insurgent groups that include al-Qaida, has claimed responsibility for the Oct. 31 and the Nov. 10 attacks. Police reported that at least 11 roadside bombs exploded within an hour in three Christian neighborhoods in Baghdad on Nov. 10.
On Saturday, Iraqi security forces arrested 12 people suspected to be linked to the attack on Our Lady of Salvation Church, including al-Qaida's Baghdad leader, Huthaifa al-Batawi.
In addition to calling for a security plan for Iraq's religious minorities, the resolution also calls for measures to accelerate the resettlement applications of Iraqi refugees and to improve conditions so they can safely return to Iraq.
"We sincerely hope that H. Res. 1725 will be adopted quickly by the House of Representatives as we believe it will help improve security for all Iraqis, especially Christians and other vulnerable minorities," the bishops said. "We hope it will contribute to the overall goal of achieving a 'responsible transition' that will reduce further loss of life and address the refugee crisis in Iraq."
Resolution 1725 was introduced on Nov. 18. Its co-sponsors are: Reps. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.), Mark S. Kirk (R-Ill.), Gary C. Peters (D-Mich.), Joseph Pitts (R-Pa.), and Trent Franks (R-Ariz.).
There are only about 600,000 Christians in Iraq now, down from about 1.2 million before the U.S-led invasion in 2003.