Hundreds rally in Detroit over attacks on Iraq’s Christians

More than 1,000 protesters sang, prayed and waved signs and American flags at a rally today at the McNamara Federal Building in downtown Detroit that was organized to draw attention to the persecution of Christians in Iraq.

The protesters say the U.S. and Iraqi governments have not done enough to keep Iraq’s Christians safe from Muslim extremists.

Metro Detroit’s Chaldean and Assyrian communities were stunned after the Oct. 31 attack at the Our Lady of Salvation Syriac Catholic Church in Baghdad during a church service that left 58 people dead. Since 2003, when the U.S. led the invasion into Iraq that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein, Muslim extremists’ attacks on Iraq’s Christians have increased.

Local Chaldeans and Assyrians say they have appealed to the U. S. State Department over the past few years to do more to protect religious minorities in Iraq.

“We hear a lot of people talking but nothing ever gets done,” said Andre Anton, of Farmington Hills, one of the rally organizers. “Religious and ethnic minorities are not a priority.”

At a news conference at the St. Toma Syriac Catholic Church in Farmington Hills before the rally, U.S. Rep. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, called the church killings “despicable” actions. He said the U. S. government has to develop a comprehensive policy that will protect Christians in Iraq.

“We have to step up and step up and be firm.” he said.

Peters said it’s especially important to do something now that U. S. forces in Iraq are being drawn down.

“We have to be sure those religious minorities that live in Iraq have the protection they need,” he said.

Representatives from U.S. Sen. Carl Levin’s office and U. S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, read letters expressing support for action that will ensure the safety of Iraq’s Christians. Miller called for the U.S. to help the Iraqi government better train their security forces to prevent future tragedies.

Later at the rally, several speakers condemned the violence and called for security and peace.

Among them, Robert Cohen, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, who condemned attacks on houses of worship. “They are obscene when they take place in a house of worship – any house of worship,” he said.

In a prayer before the crowd, retired Detroit Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton said “The suffering is unbearable. We pray you God watch over the people of Iraq.”

Anton said that in three weeks a similar rally will be held in Washington to get the attention of lawmakers.

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