Iraqi Christians urged to return to homeland Estimated 500,000 now refugees in Jordan, Syria

Nearly 500,000 Christians who fled Iraq because of attacks by al-Qaida or other Islamic fundamentalists now are being encouraged to return by a Christian organization that is working to get financial support from the Iraqi government to rebuild homes and lives.

Ken Joseph Jr. of the Assyrian Christians said the multinational military force that ejected Saddam Hussein from power and has worked in the following years to establish a stable government has succeeded.

Now he’s working to help those Christians, chased by the violence brought on by Islamic extremists fighting to restore their power, to return, since they are, in fact, the first people of Iraq, he said.

He said he’s held meetings with government officials, and learned that if he can assemble information including names, Iraqi social security numbers and hometowns for Christians who fled, they could be placed on the Iraqi ration program and get monthly support from the government, even while in another country.

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While Christians fled from Islamic attacks in Iraq, those largely have been ended by the presence of the military, mostly United States forces, and the estimated 500,000 who now are refugees in Jordan and Syria are “living in unbelievable conditions,” Joseph said.

“What we are envisioning is a system through the church to register them all and then get them into the system to receive monthly support … help to return home and medical and other needs,” Joseph said.

He said in many ways, the circumstances for Christians are improving in Iraq, including a government proposal that eventually could allow them to manage their own region.

There continue to be attacks, such as the recent assaults by al-Qaida on Christians in the north part of Iraq, but he said that is from “the remnants of al-Qaida.”

Nationally, violence is down by 90 percent, he said.

One of the officials with whom he met was Hoshiyar Zebari, Iraq’s foreign minister.

The organization reported he dismissed claims the Iraqi people felt “occupied” and thanked the U.S. and other coalition partners for removing Saddam Hussein from power.

He said Assyrian Christians “are free to organize a province or regional government.”

Joseph said the premature removal of American forces could be disastrous. He also said there needs to be encouragement for the refugees to return.

“Assyrian Christians are the original people of Iraq. They were here before all the rest,” Joseph said.

He said the Christian community in Iraq dates to the same time period as when the apostles were spreading their faith. In fact, he said, the people of the original Assyrian Christian community were among the first to send missionaries to other nations, he said.

To this day many Assyrian Christians still speak Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus. They are also the people of ancient Nineveh, the city that was visited by the biblical prophet Jonah and that lies today near the modern city of Mosul, Iraq.

WND reported just days ago when the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a federally-funded advisory team created and appointed by Congress, recommended that Iraq be designated a “country of particular concern” because of the persecution of Christians.

“The lack of effective government action to protect these communities from abuses has established Iraq among the most dangerous places on earth for religious minorities,” said USCIRF’s chairperson, Felice D. Gaer.

The atrocities that have been reported in recent years include the destruction of dozens of Christian churches, the beheading of Christian leaders, and the crucifixion of a 14-year-old boy.

“The situation continues to grow grimmer for the targeted minority Christian community in Iraq, especially in Mosul,” Carl Moeller, head of Open Doors USA, an organization that serves the persecuted church, told Christian Today. “The marginalized people of Iraq desperately need our support.”

Joseph, however, said while pockets of violence still exist, the overall atmosphere is much more positive for Christians.

A fund also has been set up by the Assyrian Christian Assistance Center to help support the refugees with basic needs and to register them for the return home to Iraq.