The End of Christianity in Iraq

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The news from Iraq has been especially grim of late. Daily it seems
violent death is everywhere
in the form of car bombings at mosques and other public facilities,
ethnic cleansing carried out by militias roving about the streets
seeking victims, even soldiers and police doubling as sectarian
enforcers. The statistics themselves tell a grim tale. Baghdad’s
morgue is receiving nearly twice
as many dead Iraqis each day as it did last year. In June 2005,
the Baghdad morgue was receiving 700 to 800 bodies a month, or an
average of between 24 to 26 a day. In July of 2006, this number
has shot up to an astounding 50.

This increase in the death toll is happening despite two events
that were supposed to reduce the level of violence. First, almost
100,000 new U.S.-trained troops have been added since last year.
Second, the U.S. military has an ongoing security "clampdown"
in Baghdad designed to reign in the violence in the capital. Unfortunately,
both the new troops and the "clampdown" have failed so
blatantly, that even the US military was forced to admit
that the level of violence in Baghdad has been hardly affected by
its efforts.

Of course, the carnage is not limited to Baghdad alone. Nationwide,
the situation is hardly any better. The United Nations mission in
Baghdad recently reported
that 2,669 civilians were killed across Iraq during May and 3,149
were killed in June. In total, 14,338 civilians were killed from
January to June 2006.

Nor is life across Iraq in the midst of growing sectarian violence
only becoming more dangerous for Iraqi civilians. Sunni insurgent
attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces have been increasing at an alarming
rate. Attacks on American and Iraqi troops in June 2006 grew
44 percent to 88 from 61 compared to June 2005. While the number
of American troops killed by hostile fire has declined, life is
just as dangerous for them as it has ever been in post-Saddam Iraq.

All of this violence and mayhem is tearing the country apart at
an increasing rate. In Baghdad, the Tigris river has become a dividing
line between the Sunni west and Shiite east. This divide is stranding
many of the city’s seven million on the "wrong" side, making even
their daily trips outside for shopping or to work into dangerous
missions in enemy territory. To stay alive, many Iraqis have turned
to fake IDs that can be used to fool sectarian militias out hunting
for victims. For $35, those with easily identifiable sectarian names
can get false documents that might mean the difference between life
and death on an Iraqi street.

Other Iraqis have simply packed up and fled religiously mixed
areas for what they hope will be safer ground among their co-religionists.
The number of Iraqis who have registered
for assistance as refugees within Iraq since the 22 February bombing
of a Shiite shrine at Samarra stands at 162,000 people. Many
of them live in 11 new tent camps. They include Abd Hammad al-Saeidi,
who said
that, “Gunmen told us to leave or they would kill us." The
farmer from just south of Baghdad now lives with his family of 11
in a tent.

Obviously then, Iraq is rapidly becoming a nation of refugees.
Sunnis and other minorities are leaving the south, while Shiites
have been fleeing the areas around Baghdad and the north. For both
the Sunni and Shia civilians caught in this cauldron of violence,
the situation is tragic beyond description. However, as bad as things
have been for Muslim Iraqis, for one vulnerable group of Iraqis,
life inside "free Iraq" has been even more difficult. For the Assyrians,
who are both Christian and the indigenous people of Iraq, the aftermath
of Iraq's "liberation" has been downright catastrophic.

The Assyrian Christian population of Iraq has been brutalized
by both ethnic and religious attacks since the US-led invasion in
2003. Glyn Ford, a UK Labor member of the European Parliament and
member of the "Save
the Assyrians
" campaign, recently laid
out a litany of woe that has befallen the Assyrians. Ford reports
that torture, kidnapping, extortion, harassment, church bombings,
forced religious conversion, political disenfranchisement and property
destruction are just some of the deliberate human rights violations
that are both ruining and taking the lives of Assyrians in Iraq.

The President of "Save the Assyrians," Andy Darmoo, told
a news conference in New York, “Today, the situation is the worst
we have ever lived in Iraq.”

Christians accounted for somewhere between five and twelve percent
of the pre-war Iraqi population of 26 million. Most Iraqi Christians
are Assyrians whose native language is a form of Aramaic. Over half
of the Assyrian Iraqi community resides in the north, primarily
in the Nineveh Plains and its surrounding areas. This location puts
them at the mercy of America's allies, the Kurdish Regional Government
(KRG), which has been anything but kind to the Assyrians.

Shamiran Mako, an analyst with the Council for Assyrian Research
and Development (CARD), a Canadian-based think-tank, told
the IPS that since the "liberation" of Iraq, oppression has become
more prevalent in the North.

“Recently, there have been systematic measures taken by the Kurdish
Democratic Party (KDP) officials, under the Kurdish-controlled areas
to marginalise and suppress Assyrians through the dictatorial policies
of the KRG.”

The remaining Assyrians living elsewhere in Iraq have faired little
better, of course, as they have been frequently targeted by the
insurgency, by religious extremists, and even by criminal gangs
bent on earning ransom money. As Halfath Hamama, an Iraqi refugee
who fled to Syria explained,
“Our children, wives, and family members are kidnapped every day.
They send us a note telling us to give them fifty thousand dollars
or they will kill our family. They send us their fingers or toes,
pictures of them beaten and bruised, and tell us we bring this on
our head because we are Christians and collaborate with the Christian
Americans.”

Anecdotal evidence aside, one must turn to the hard numbers to
get the true measure of the Christian catastrophe unleashed by the
U.S. invasion of Iraq. Statistics from the United Nations High Commissioner
for Refugees (UNHCR) in October 2005 show
that around 700,000 Iraqis took refuge in Syria alone between
October 2003 and March 2005. Of this number, fully 36 percent were
Iraqi Christians, an astounding rate given their small percentage
of the overall population of Iraq.

In total, over 250,000 Christian refugees are now stranded in Syria,
Jordan and Turkey. This is not even counting those that are displaced
within Iraq itself, many having fled north trying to find some measure
of safety among other Assyrians. Despite the scale, however, of
this human tragedy, the Assyrians have largely been left to their
own devices.

While the Kurds, for example, have received millions of dollars
in aid following the end of Saddam's regime, aid to the Assyrians
has been almost non-existent. This has resulted in many refugees
living in appalling conditions. It was even recently reported
that some of the Assyrian refugees in northern Iraq had been reduced
to sleeping on bare dirt in Christian cemeteries.

Since 2005, the Council for Assyrian Research and Development
has sought
to record the abuses endured by Assyrians through the Assyrian
Human Rights Documentation Project. The first outcome paper
produced by the group pulls no punches in its grim assessment. The
paper warns, “At the current rates of ethnic cleansing, forced assimilation
and migration, the indigenous Assyrian Christians will be fully
eradicated from the new ‘democratic Iraq’ in less than 10 years
… the Kurdification, Arabisation, and Islamification of Iraq have
left an ancient people at the doors of extinction."

The Assyrians have been calling for assistance, and these pleas
have largely fallen on deaf ears. What is most needed is an Assyrian
Administrative Unit
, a safe haven that would be administered
and guarded by the Assyrians themselves. While international groups
such as the European
Parliament
have issued declarations and resolutions of support,
the actual power in Iraq, the United States, appears to have already
relegated the Assyrians to the dustbin of history. Unless the American
people themselves choose to demand a policy reversal, it is unlikely
that the Bush Administration will become interested in the fate
of Iraqi Christians on its own accord.

It is doubtful that George W. Bush will be remembered as the American
President who brought Jeffersonian Democracy to the Middle East.
But it appears that at least one historic achievement is well within
his grasp. It is quite likely that "W" will succeed where the Arab
Caliphate, the Mongol Empire, the Ottoman Empire, British colonialism,
and decades of Ba'athist misrule all failed. When "W" finally saunters
off the world stage, the Assyrian Christian community in Iraq will
probably be gone as well.

And the world will be a much poorer place because of it.

July
25, 2006

Glen
Chancy [send him mail]
is a graduate of the University of Florida with a degree in Political
Science, and a certificate in Eastern European Studies. A former
University lecturer in Poland, he currently holds an MBA in Finance
and works in Orlando, Florida as a business analyst for an international
software developer.

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