U.S. Commission Split on Iraq Religious Freedom

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 WASHINGTON — The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is split along party lines over whether to designate Iraq as a “country of particular concern” for religious freedom.A recommendation to designate Iraq as a “country of particular concern” would be a blow to the Baghdad government of Prime Minister Maliki, putting Iraq on a list with some of the most repressive countries on the planet, such as North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan. It could also prompt the next American president to cut off foreign aid to Iraq, an option under the International Religious Freedom Act that created the commission.

The commission yesterday sent a letter to Secretary of State Rice, saying, “We remain seriously concerned about religious freedom conditions in Iraq. The commission is traveling to the region later in the month and plans to issue its report and recommendation on Iraq in the near future, including a recommendation concerning the appropriate designation of Iraq this year under the International Religious Freedom Act.”

The decision to delay the decision for a month was preceded by a bitter fight along Republican and Democratic lines over a draft chapter about Iraq in the panel’s annual religious freedom report. According to sources familiar with the drafts, the first draft, favored by the panel’s Democrats, contained a larger critique of the overall troop surge and counterinsurgency strategy supported by Senator McCain and President Bush. The Republicans on the commission drafted a dissent accusing the Democrats of partisanship.

The 10-person commission was on the verge of recommending the designation of Iraq until one Republican-appointed commissioner, Nina Shea, opted to support the decision to take another month