Italian minister concerned about anti-Christian violence in Iraq

Baghdad – Italy’s Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said on Thursday that his country is concerned about violence against Iraq’s minorities, especially Christians, during a surprise visit to Iraq.

Iraqi Christians in the northern Mosul city have been subjected to killings and death threats since September, and many thousands have fled the city.

Around 400 Christians fled to Syria in October alone to escape the harsh conditions at home.

The Vatican said in October the Iraqi government needed to do more to protect Christians in Mosul.

Frattini said Iraq’s government had taken positive steps to protect Christians.

‘Iraq’s government does not show bias or discriminate against minorities,’ he said in a press conference with his Iraqi counterpart Hoshyar Zebari.

‘The government does not stop Christians from living peacefully and integrating in the governments’ institutions,’ he added.

Frattini, who arrived in Iraq on an unannounced visit, said Italy was committed to the rebuilding of Iraq. Some Iraqi army and police personnel receive training in Italy, he said.

Italy would also help revive Iraq’s cultural heritage starting with the renovation of Iraq’s national museum and other museums, Frattini said.

Separately, Zebari said he saw hope for the passing of a security pact with the US government which would decide the withdrawal date for US troops in Iraq.

The agreement needs parliamentary approval before it can be signed into law by the US and Iraqi presidents.

‘Do not wonder if there are some supporting and opposing votes in the parliament. The chances for the agreement to pass are there,’ Zebari said.

The coming days were critical, and Iraqi lawmakers should be decisive, Zebari said.

The Iraqi minister attended Wednesday’s parliamentary session, which was disrupted and adjourned for one day after clashes between lawmakers.