Iraq’s forgotten conflict

Untold until now is the story of ‘a campaign of liquidation’ against Iraq’s religious minorities who, post invasion, have had to endure torture, killings, forced conversions and exile.

As troops move out of Iraq, and in the wake of elections, US and British politicians refer to ‘the emergence of a pluralistic democracy’.

Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Louis Sako, of Kirkuk, begs to differ, “200,000 Christians fleeing Mosul alone, in fear of their lives, and 1,000 murdered, is not much of a basis for pluralism or democracy”.

It’s not just Christians who suffer. Both Mandaeans, who speak Aramaic – the language of Christ – and the Yazidis, goldsmiths with a history going back further than Christianity or Islam, are fast disappearing, too.

“Does nobody care about what is going on here?” asks Archbishop Sako.

“It’s nothing less than the destruction of our ancient and honoured heritage, and our religious and cultural traditions.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, does. He tells the BBC that he fears it heralds the disappearance of Christianity from the Middle East.

He blames Western ignorance of Christianity in Iraq, which is not about missionaries and converts – it was there long before St Augustine turned up in Britain on his mission of conversion, and half a millennium before the Prophet Mohammed was born.

He also blames “a particular kind” of Islam which, to the horror of many Muslims, has wiped out centuries of fruitful religious co-existence.

Edward Stourton reports for Heart and Soul from Baghdad and surrounding areas.

Just what is happening to these urbane, educated, intelligent minorities? Why is it happening? What can be done? And what hope can there possibly be for that ‘pluralistic democracy’?