Catholic priest demands U.S. recognize genocide against Christians in Iraq, Syria

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An Iraqi man weeps as he holds a Christian religious poster depicting Jesus and the Virgin Mary during a demonstration calling for governmental reform in Tahrir Square in Baghdad on Feb. 26. (Associated Press)
By Guy Taylor – The Washington Times – Wednesday, March 9, 2016

A decade has gone by since the Rev. Douglas al-Bazi was kidnapped and had his teeth knocked out by Islamic jihadis in Baghdad, a nightmare that still haunts the Chaldean Catholic priest and one that fuels his quest to have the horror endured by his fellow Iraqi Christians be recognized for what it is: “genocide.”

“I am here to tell the world, ‘Do you realize what is happening or not? Are you going to help or not?’” Father al-Bazi said in Washington this week.
His visit is aimed at highlighting the resistance by the Obama administration to officially recognize that an organized genocide targeting ancient Christian communities is underway in Iraq and Syria.

By some estimates, there were as many as 2 million Christians of various denominations in Iraq in 2003. Today, there are fewer than 300,000, said Father al-Bazi, who fled Baghdad three years ago for the Kurdish city of Irbil, where tens of thousands of displaced Christians are living in 17 makeshift refugee camps.

“My ex-parish in Baghdad was 2,600 families. When I left, we were less than 300 families,” said the 43-year-old priest, who tried for years to hold the parish together after surviving the kidnapping in 2006. “I know [their] pain. So I don’t blame people when they decide to leave.”

He spoke in a quiet, humble tone during an interview with The Washington Times that the Knights of Columbus — the world’s largest Catholic fraternal organization — arranged ahead of its release Thursday of a searing survey on the treatment of Christians in Iraq.

The report outlines how 1,100 Christians have been killed in the nation since 2003, while hundreds of thousands have fled to neighboring states as their churches and homes were targeted, first by al Qaeda in Iraq and Shiite militia groups and more recently by the Islamic State.

The report also lays out an explicit legal argument for why U.S. officials should declare that Christians in Iraq and Syria are the victims of a genocide perpetrated by the terrorist group, also known as ISIS and ISIL. “The scope of the report is this is clearly genocide and must be called such,” said Andrew T. Walther, vice president of communications and strategic planning for the Knights of Columbus.

Pope Francis and some presidential candidates, including Republicans Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, have already called what is happening to Christians and other minorities in the Middle East a genocide.

March 17 deadline

U.S. administrations have long been reluctant to adopt the genocide tag, which brings with it formal obligations under international law and, in some cases, can make a negotiated settlement to an international crisis harder to achieve.

When pressed in early February on why the Obama administration has steered away from using the word in relation to Christians in the Middle East, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, “My understanding is that the use of that specific term has legal ramifications, and so there are lawyers that are considering whether or not that term can be properly applied in this scenario.”

Still, the European Union parliament last month approved a resolution declaring the Islamic State’s campaign against Christian and other religious minorities a genocide, and lawmakers from both parties in Washington are pressuring Mr. Obama to follow suit.

Lawmakers quietly included a provision in the omnibus spending bill passed late last year to force Secretary of State John F. Kerry to publicly declare by March 17 whether a genocide has occurred.

The House Committee on Foreign Affairs last week unanimously approved a resolution declaring that the Islamic State has committed genocide against Christians, Yazidis and other ethnic and religious minorities in the Middle East.