An uncertain future for Iraqi Christians

Assyrian As Iraq receives less news coverage for a variety of reasons, the ongoing tragedies that are becoming part of everyday life in that ancient land receive less coverage. Nearly a year ago, we highlighted a Washington Times article on the persecution of religious minority groups in Iraq. Thursday, The New York Times provided a retrospective article on the subject of religious persecution that highlights just how tragic that persecution became:

Officials say the demands could be hundreds of dollars a month per male member of a household. In many cases, Christian families drained their life savings and went into debt to make the payments. Insurgents also raised money by kidnapping priests. The ransoms, often paid by the congregations, typically ran as high as $150,000, several priests and lay Christians said.

In a paradox, this city, long the seat of Iraqi Christianity, also became known as the last urban stronghold of Sunni insurgents. Another, more painful, paradox is that many of Iraq's remaining 700,000 Christians paid to save their lives, knowing full well that the money would be used for bombs and other weapons to kill others.

The really stunning statistic in this article is that the Iraqi Christian population has fallen a pre-war 1.3 million to about 700,000 today. Those who stayed provided financial backing against their will for the insurgency:

These payments, American military officials and Iraqi Christians say, peaked from 2005 to 2007 and grew into a source of financing for the insurgency. They thus became a secret, shameful and extraordinary complication in the lives of Iraq's Christians and their leaders -- one that Christians are only now talking about more openly, with violence much lower than in the first years of the war.

"People deny it, people say it's too complex, and nobody in the international community does anything about it," said Canon Andrew White, the Anglican vicar of Baghdad. Complicating the issue further, he said, some of the protection money came from funds donated by Christians abroad to help their fellow Christians in Iraq.

Yonadam Kanna, a Christian lawmaker in Iraq's Parliament, said, "All Iraqi Christians paid."

I should note that the NYT is somewhat behind on this story. The Associated Press ran a story in early May, and had a story on the subject in late May.

Probably as a benefit of being late, the NYT was able to provide some context to the situation with some stunning details. One subtle angle in their story is that the decreasing violence has allowed a sort of respite from the ransom payments and kidnappings.

The missing angle from these stories was what would happen if and/or when the American military presence is either reduced from its current status or removed all together. What type of assurances, if anyone, can be given to Iraq's religious minorities (about 3 percent of the population) that they will be able to continue to live in their ancient land?

Photo of Assyrian child dressed in traditional clothes from Wikipedia.

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