The plight of Iraqi Christians: Chilcot on the warnings that were missed

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British diplomats and French leaders were among those to warn about religious conflict in post-invasion Iraq
BAGHDAD : In the aftermath of the war in Iraq, the country’s Christian population has decreased from 1.4 million to 250,000.

Alongside its other findings, the Chilcot Report released this morning suggests that the devastating impact on Iraqi Christians and other religious minorities was predicted at the time.

Lord David Alton warned in 2003 about the risk to Shia Muslims, Marsh Arabs, Kurds and Assyrian Christians, telling the House of Lords: “It is essential that their suffering is minimised in the aftermath of any possible conflict.”

Lord Alton told the Catholic Herald today: “Today’s genocide against the region’s minorities has its origins in the failure to plan for the future and, as Sir John Chilcot has concluded, it doesn’t need the benefit of hindsight to see what the absence of a post war strategy would lead to.”

The report quotes a number of other warnings, made prior to the invasion, about the perilous situation for religious minorities in Iraq.

January 2002: British diplomat reports Iraqi Christians’ fears

“The Iraqi Christian community was concerned that it risked marginalisation, with some senior figures worrying about what would happen to their community if the current Iraqi regime fell or changed.” (Chilcot’s summary of a report by a junior embassy official from British Embassy in Amman)

May 2002: British embassy raises possibility of ‘religious instability’

“The May update contained some insights into both social and infrastructure issues. It highlighted Saddam Hussein’s ‘scare tactics’ over what would happen in the event of a coalition invasion of Iraq and the possibility of Iraqi and regional instability thereafter: ‘This line plays on real fears of the unknown and of religious instability. For all his faults, Saddam does, for now, mean stability and peace.’” (Chilcot on the May 2002 update from the embassy in Amman)

7 March 2003: French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin warns of religious war

“… War would only increase it [terrorism], and we could then be faced with a new wave of violence. Let us beware of playing into the hands of those who want a clash of civilisations or a clash of religions.” (Speech at UN Security Council)

10 March 2003: French President Jacques Chirac on Iraq’s “first victors”

“It’s certain that, if there’s war, the first victors will probably be those seeking confrontation, the clash of civilisations, cultures and religions. In my opinion, a war of this nature can lead only to increased terrorism.”–Catholic Heral