Iraq has a ‘duty’ to protect Christians

BAGHDAD, Nov. 20 (UPI) — The Iraqi government has a “duty” to protect its Christian minority population, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told a visiting Italian delegation Thursday.
Thousands of members of the Iraqi Christian minority in the northern provinces fled targeted violence from gunmen, notably in Mosul, in October. The United Nations estimates roughly half of the Christian population was displaced, though members of the community are slowly returning to their homes.

In a meeting in Baghdad with Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, the Iraqi premier said religious diversity was a key part of regional identity as the Christian community was one of the first established in Mesopotamia, the Italian news agency ANSA reported.

“It’s not a concession but a duty for Iraq to defend Christians, who were the first to arrive in this country,” Maliki said. “We mustn’t empty the East of Christians nor the West of Muslims.”

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd, assured his Italian counterpart that Iraq was actively addressing security concerns. The Maliki government dispatched scores of Iraqi military and police units to the north in an effort to restore calm in the wake of the attacks.

Frattini responded to the assurances, saying it was “an important formal undertaking” on the part of the Iraqi government.