Iraq’s Christians at Risk From Targeted Violence

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A series of attacks killing dozens of the country’s Christians are alarming Iraq-watchers, some of whom warn that the violence may be part of an emerging trend of sectarian persecution against the minority group. Many Iraqis and outside analysts consider Iraqi Christians to be part of the ethnically distinct Assyrian sect, which has suffered heavily in the Iraq war and been disproportionately targeted by internal violence. This new wave of violence, reportedly perpetrated by al-Qaeda-linked terrorist groups, appears to be targeting the Christian Iraqis for their religion rather than for their ethnicity. Archbishop Athanasios Dawood of the Syriac Orthodox Church, a regional leader among Assyrian Christians, issued a statement warning of “genocide” and urging Iraqi Christians to flee the country. Here’s what observers have to say.
•Why Iraqi Christians Are So Vulnerable The Guardian’s James Denselow writes, “In the absence of effective Christian representation in the new Iraqi government and without a militia to protect them in Iraq’s violent sectarian arena, Iraqi Christians were targeted throughout the height of Iraq’s civil war period from 2006-2007. High-ranking clergy were kidnapped and assassinated and tens of thousands fled the country. Despite making up less than 5% of Iraq’s population, they constitute an estimated 10% of internally displaced Iraqis and 20% of Iraqi refugees in neighbouring nations. … Instability may widen the existing cracks in Iraqi society; the worry is that Iraq’s Christian population will continue to disappear in them.”
•Christians Lack Their Own Militia The pseudonymous IraqPundit notes, “One of the comments on this blog said Christians will be extinct because they are unarmed. Perhaps that’s correct, but so are several other minorities in Iraq. And it’s true that we live in a World that listens only to those with an army. Politically, Iraq is only Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds.”
•Were They Better Off Under Saddam? Juan Cole writes, “[Archbishop Athanasios] Dawood says that the Iraqi government is at best incapable of protecting the country’s Christians, and at worst itself riddled with extremists. He told Aljazeera that in this regard, the Baath government of Saddam Hussein had been better. Christians could live and worship in pre-American Iraq. Now, he says, living in Iraq is like living in the jungle. … Extremists often configure them as collaborators with the Americans, who are seen as Christians and Jews.”
•Iraq May Be Purged of Christianity By 2100 Foreign Policy’s Eden Naby and Jamsheed Choksy write, “There is now an alarming possibility that there will be no significant Christian communities in Iraq or Iran by century’s end. Christian schools, communal halls, historical sites, and churches are being appropriated by national and provincial governments, government-sponsored Muslim organizations, and radical Islamist groups. Economic and personal incentives are offered to those who adopt Islam.”
• Repercussions of Invasion Continue Foreign Policy’s Max Strasser sighs, “The U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq has affected every aspect of society in that country. As many people have written, the U.S. government seems to have been wholly unprepared for what lay ahead in Iraq. It’s hard to imagine that George W. Bush, with his own deep Christian faith, expected the catastrophe in store for Iraqi Christians.”