NCC Calls on White House to Protect Iraqi Christians

The National Council of Churches (NCC) has called on the Obama administration to communicate with Iraqi authorities in an effort to bring violence against Christian minorities in the region to an end.

In letters sent April 26 to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and to U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, NCC leaders expressed concern about the attacks and asked the secretaries to urge Iraqi authorities and the commanders of Coalition forces in Iraq "to take all possible steps" in curbing the persecution.

"Our concern is now particularly acute because it is possible that tensions will increase as various political forces continue to vie for power following the recent elections," the letter said. "We fear that a growing climate of mistrust and animosity will further threaten the fragile Christian community."

The letter further urges the White House to work directly and with Iraqis to extend necessary humanitarian aid to displaced families and encourage the preservation of religious and ethnic diversity in Iraq.

The letter's signatories include NCC General Secretary the Rev. Michael Kinnamon, NCC President the Rev. Peg Chemberlin and 21 other leaders and ecumenical officers from the group's member communions.

2010 has marked a bloody and tragic year for Christians in Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries, many of whom faced some of the worst violence in their regions in the decades.

On March 27, a 3-year-old child was killed in a bomb attack on a Christian home in Mosul, northern Iraq - the same location where, ten days earlier, a Christian shopkeeper was gunned down as the ninth victim in a string of bloody violence against the religious minority in the country.

The attacks, which saw eight Christians gunned down in the span of two weeks, were reported to be politically motivated and related to the recent elections that took place in Iraq in March.

A report from the United Nations on March 2 estimated that over 4,000 people have fled Mosul since mid-February.

In total, more than 2,000 Christians have been killed in the country since 2003, and 600,000 have fled Iraq, according to a report from Fides.

Last December, the U.S. Congress appropriated $467 million to Iraq for economic and security assistance through the FY 2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act.

However, a follow up report from the State Department on the funds, which was required to be produced 90 days after the act was passed, is yet to be written.

In February, Congress reaffirmed its support of Iraqi minorities, saying in House Resolution 944 that "threats against the smallest religious minorities in Iraq jeopardize the future of Iraq as a diverse, pluralistic, and free society."

"In recent years, there have been alarming numbers of religiously motivated killings, abductions, beatings, rapes, threats, intimidation, forced conversions, marriages, and displacement from homes and businesses, and attacks on religious leaders, pilgrims, and holy sites, in Iraq, with the smallest religious minorities in Iraq having been among the most vulnerable, although Iraqis from many religious communities, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, have suffered in this violence," the resolution states.

H.R. 944 also recommends that President Obama designate Iraq as a "country of particular concern" (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.

Days after the resolution, Representatives Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), Mark Steven Kirk (R-Ill.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), and Frank World (R-Va.) sent a letter to Obama urging his administration to "undertake all such actions it deems necessary to protect the Iraqi Christian community, including working with the Government of Iraq to significantly increase minority protection in Mosul and bringing the perpetrators of these heinous crimes to justice."

The Congressmen also called for the White House to produce the State Department report, which they suggest will serve as a "foundation of a comprehensive policy to address the needs of Iraq's religious and ethnic minorities and will propose viable solutions to ensure that the already decimated Christian community is not completely driven from its homeland."

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