Iraqi Vice President Urges Christians To Stay, Seeks Help For Them

PARIS (AFP)–Iraq’s Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi Wednesday urged Iraq’s Christian minority not to flee the country and called on the international community to help protect the Christians from extremists.
According to Christian leaders, 250,000 of the 800,000 Christians who lived in Iraq six years ago before the invasion that ousted dictator Saddam Hussein have now left the country, part of a larger refugee exodus.
“The position of Iraqi Christians is vulnerable and Iraq must not be left alone to face this. It’s a collective task,” Abdul Mahdi, himself a member of Iraq’s larger Shiite Muslim community, told a seminar in France.
“Christians are an integral part of Iraq. We need to help Iraq and help Christians remain in Iraq,” he told delegates at a conference at the French Institute of International Relations in Paris.
All of Iraq’s religious and ethnic communities have been caught up in the insurgent and sectarian violence wracking the country, and in some areas Christians have been targeted by criminals or by Islamic extremists.
One of the largest Christian communities was in the northern city of Mosul, which has become a hotbed of insurgent violence since U.S. and Iraqi forces won the upper hand in the conflict further south in and around Baghdad.
Police reinforcements were sent to the city last year to protect the remaining Christian families after they received threats and homes and churches were vandalized, but there is no sign yet of refugees returning.
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