Tuesday, March 31, 2009

State Department and Western media ignore ‘the end of Christianity’ in Iraq

In December 2008 the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released its Report of the United States Commission on Religious Freedom on Iraq (PDF).

The report recommended that Iraq be designated as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) because of its “ongoing severe abuses of religious freedom and based on the Iraqi government’s toleration of these abuses as described in this report, particularly abuses against all of Iraq’s most vulnerable and smallest religious minorities.”

It continues:
“there has been continued targeted violence, as well as threats and intimidation against persons belonging to religious minorities, and other egregious religiously-motivated abuses are continuing and widespread. The lack of effective government action to protect these communities from abuses has established Iraq among the most dangerous places on earth for religious minorities.”

The situation is “especially dire” for ChaldoAssyrian Christians, other Christians, Sabean Mandaeans, and Yazidis.

”These communities report that their numbers in Iraq have substantially diminished, and that their members who have left the country have not to date showed signs of returning in significant numbers,” the report said. “Legally, politically, and economically marginalized, these small minorities are caught in the middle of a struggle between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the central Iraqi government for control of northern areas where their communities are concentrated. The combined effect of all of this has been to endanger these ancient communities’ very existence in Iraq.”

The report itself catalogues the depopulation of religious minorities in Iraq. From page 14:

”In 2003, there were estimated to be as many as 1.4 million Christians in Iraq, including Chaldean Catholics, Assyrian Orthodox, Assyrian Church of the East, Syriac Orthodox, Armenians (Catholic and Orthodox), Protestants, and Evangelicals. Today, it is thought that only 500,000 to 700,000 indigenous Christians remain in the country. Moreover, while Christians and other religious minorities represented only approximately three 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. Christian leaders have warned that the result of this flight may be ‘the end of Christianity in Iraq.’

“The most recent attacks took place in the northern city of Mosul in late September/early October 2008, when at least 14 Christians were killed and many more report they were threatened, spurring some 13,000 individuals to flee to villages east and north of the city and an estimated 400 families to flee to Syria. The United Nations has estimated that this number is half of the current Christian population in Mosul.”

In the last days of the Bush Administration, the U.S. State Department declined to deem Iraq a CPC, Catholic News Agency reports. That's pragmatism in inaction.

If Iraq is still a U.S. responsibility, it’s hard to tell from observing the media’s December coverage of the USCIRF report.

The story merited less than 140 words in the Washington Post, which placed it on page B09 under its “Religion Briefing.” The Post followed a Reuters story given more space at Radio Free Europe.

A brief search of the New York Times site reveals no recent stories specifically on religious freedom in Iraq, the USCIRF reports apparently being last mentioned in September 2007.

Perhaps the press had more important religion reporting to do in December 2008, like reprinting frenzied complaints about Pope Benedict’s tangential criticism of gender theory.

Who does Google News suggest is providing the most coverage of USCIRF action on Iraq?

The Assyrian International News Agency, which published its USCIRF report summary in December.

AINA also reported that Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) in December accused the U.S. of turning a blind eye to anti-Christian persecutions in Iraq. AINA further reported that Sens. Brownback, Casey, Wicker, Cardin and Levin had sent a March 5 letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton which reiterated portions of the USCIRF report.

This letter was not even announced on any of the Senators’ web sites. Friends of long-suffering Iraqi Christians should not have to ask for that token publicity.

There is a backstory to the religious freedom commission, again covered mainly in the religious press. The Associated Baptist Press in May 2008 blamed political division in the USCIRF’s failure to secure an initial recommendation on Iraq’s CPC status, reporting:
The 10-member panel has nine voting members. Of those presently serving, five commissioners were appointed by Republicans, and four by Democrats. According to the Sun, all Democrat-appointed commissioners supported elevating Iraq to CPC status this year, while most Republican-appointed commissioners opposed the designation and the report accompanying it.

Even this conflict availed little, given the U.S. State Department’s ultimate decision not to deem Iraq a CPC.

Are the USCIRF findings underreported because the commission is largely symbolic, or is the commission largely symbolic because its findings are underreported?

Iraq is now far more Muslim than it was before the 2003 invasion. For all the happy stories about Iraqi families resettling in Western lands, those who drove them out and those who failed to protect them ought not escape attention.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for the cool and saddening statistics. They brought tears to my eyes.

Kamilla said...


Thank you for highlighting this. I've been aware of it for some time, but haven't been following USCIRF's reports for the last couple of years.

It is, indeed, a very sad situation.

Do you know, on the other hand, if the reports of a significant number Iraqi Kurds' conversion to Christianity are accurate and what those numbers may be?


Kevin Jones said...

I have not heard reports or rumors about Kurdish conversions.

My first stop relating to Muslim converts is the blog by "Abu Daoud," an Anglican missionary to Muslim lands.

His story about Kurdish Christians only replicates Christianity Today articles. Is that where you heard of the story?