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Groups to Press Obama to Defend Iraqi Christians
By Stephanie Samuel
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A coalition of faith and cultural groups are planning a Saturday protest in Washington, D.C., to urge the president to take action on behalf of Iraqi Christians. On December 4, groups such as the Iraqi Christian Relief Council and the American Mesopotamian Organization will gather across the street from the White House to rally for Assyrian Christians in Iraq, suffering persecution because of their faith, and other indigenous minorities. On its website, host group Justice in Iraq states, "We must challenge the Obama Administration to support and protect ALL indigenous people -- Assyrian Christians, Mandaeans and Yazidis -- in Iraq." Christians have been under attack in Iraq since Muslims accused church members of hiding Muslim women in October. On Oct. 31, suicide attackers stormed Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad, wounding 75 and killing 58 people, including three priests. 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, including two Christian men and a six-year-old girl and her Christian father in Mosul. "We had enough," said Waleeta Canon, director of the Assyria Foundation, at a November protest. "We've had enough of the failure of the U.S. government ignoring the Christian minority in Iraq, ignoring the Assyrians of Iraq." On Nov. 1, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs released a statement on behalf President Barack Obama saying: "The United States strongly condemns this senseless act of hostage taking and violence by terrorists linked to al Qaeda in Iraq that occurred Sunday in Baghdad killing so many innocent Iraqis. Our hearts go out to the people of Iraq who have suffered so much from these attacks. We offer sincerest condolences to the families of the victims and to all the people of Iraq who are targeted by these cowardly acts of terrorism. We know the overwhelming majority of Iraqis from all its communities reject violence and we stand with them as we work together to combat terrorism and protect the people of our two nations." However, the protesters want more. Justice in Iraq said it wants to call media and international government attention to the human rights violations against Iraqi religious and cultural minorities, which they said have persisted for many years in silence. A week after the first attacks, the Iraqi Christian Council participated in a similar protest in Chicago. There, Muslims, Iraqi immigrants and Christians banded together and chanted, "President Barack save the Christians of Iraq." Several people with white t-shirts sprayed with red paint sprawled out on the ground to reenact the massacre. Several participants acknowledged that Assyrian Christians are as much as a part of Iraq's history as Muslims. "The blood that shed in Iraq, the Assyrian blood, is our blood," said an Iraqi demonstrator. According to the Assyrian Genocide Research Center, the Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac Christian people of Iraq are the descendants of the first converts to Christianity outside Jerusalem in the 1st century A.D. They still speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus. Additionally, the religious traditions and languages of the indigenous Yazidi and the Sabean Mandaeans originated in Mesopotamian times. The D.C. protest will be held in Lafayette Park from 12 to 3 p.m. According to the Justice in Iraq website, protesters plan to carpool to the park from Grace Church in Fredericksburg, Va.

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