Chaldean business leader meets with Obama

12.jpgA local Chaldean businessman recently spoke with President Obama about an issue that haunts East County’s Iraqi Catholic community — the on-going persecution of their culture and religion in Iraq.

Mark Arabo, president and CEO of the Neighborhood Market Association, said he raised the subject during a brief talk with Obama in San Diego.

“I told him basically that what’s happening there is ethnic cleansing,” said Arabo. He said Chaldeans in the war-ravaged country “are living in fear.”

According to Arabo, the president expressed concern and told him that the Iraqi government needs to be held accountable when it comes to protecting minorities within the Muslim-dominated country.

Chaldean immigrants in the El Cajon area, home of the second-largest population of Chaldeans in the U.S., after Detroit, have been alarmed by the escalation in attacks on their churches and related institutions in Iraq.

Last fall, militants shot and killed at least 58 people, including two priests, at a Baghdad parish that some El Cajon Chaldeans formerly attended.

Following the attack, Chaldean leaders stepped up efforts to draw international attention to the issue. Arabo said his meeting with Obama was an important step in that effort.

“He was very open-minded,” Arabo said of the president. “He really wanted to know about the situation.”

Arabo said he was among a small group that was invited to meet with the president to discuss the economy and other issues. The president visited the San Diego region in late September.

Arabo’s San Diego-based association represents convenience store owners and other merchants.