Congress presses Obama to act on attacks on Christians in Iraq

by Ed Morrissey
The war in Iraq has mainly been an exercise in partisanship, at least since the presidential election campaign of 2004. Since Barack Obama took office, however, the issue has mainly faded to the background as Republicans and Democrats alike tacitly agreed to support the administration’s decision to abide by the status-of-forces agreement (SOFA) negotiated by George Bush and Nouri al-Maliki in 2008 that will see the bulk of US forces withdraw by the end of next year. However, that schedule has generated further bipartisan agreement that the White House needs to do more in the wake of al-Qaeda attacks on Christians in Iraq to get the Iraqi government to defend the right to freedom of worship:
Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill are fervently pressing the White House to stem mounting attacks on Christians in Iraq. …
Since 2004, 40 Christian churches and institutions have been bombed, according to the Chaldean Assyrian Syriac Council of America, seven alone on the eve of Orthodox Christmas in 2007.
In a recent letter to President Obama, the group warned that the current situation “promises more innocent Christian blood in Iraq, more turmoil in that country, and more shame for America.” …
Before the ouster of Saddam Hussein, there were about 1.4 million Christians in Iraq, comprising about 3 percent of the population, said Eshoo. Today, through a mass exodus and violence that has included a dozen clergy killed or kidnapped, about 400,000 remain.
“The numbers are stunning,” [Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA)] said. “We are really struggling to have the issue taken as seriously as it should be taken.”
The problem Congress sees is that of waning US influence in direct proportion to the withdrawal of troops. The White House has a rapidly-closing window in which to use its leverage to assist the Iraqi Christians; after next year, the US may have less influence than any time since the 1990 invasion of Kuwait to shape the direction of Iraq. Since the attacks, the House passed a resolution condemning the “bloodbath,” and sent letters to Hillary Clinton and the GAO to review funding and protection policies for the “indigenous religious communities” in Iraq, apparently to little avail.
Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), the co-chair of Eshoo’s Religious Minorities in Iraq Caucus, scolded President Obama for a weak, politically-correct response to the terrorist attacks:
He also criticized the Obama administration for not mentioning “Christian” or “church” in condemning the attack, charging this downplayed the systemic targeting of the faithful.
“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,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said after the massacre.
“What you’re seeing is the eradication of the Christian community,” Wolf said. “The world has pretty much turned away.”
Wolf says that the White House rarely responds to the concerns of the RMI Caucus, and gets the impression that the issue is “not at the top of the list” with the administration at the moment. If so, Wolf and Eshoo are fighting the clock to get Obama to use what influence remains to stop the eradication of the Christian communities in Iraq. The bipartisan nature of these concerns should have the White House scrambling to get in front of the issue; instead, it appears that no one in the administration has the stomach to challenge Maliki and his government to act with more strength to protect religious freedom. That does not bode well for future management of the US-Iraq relationship