Iraq's Assyrians still threatened with annihilation

Iraq's Assyrians still threatened with annihilation

By Stephen Wynne/ aina.org/

Iraq, an epicenter of persecution, has bled itself of Christians for the past 15 years.

On Monday, April 2, the Iraqi Human Rights Society (IHRS) issued a report outlining the magnitude of their suffering.

Since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, the once-flourishing community has been decimated, with 81 per cent of its population (roughly 1.2 million people) either dead or in exile.

The IHRS report echoes a landmark 2017 study by Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). "Persecuted and Forgotten?" that revealed the Christian population "showed a decline from 275,000 in mid-2015 to below 200,000 two years later and possibly as few as 150,000."

In the past year, 37,000 Christians have returned to home to the Ninevah Plains, but this is still not enough to stabilize their presence in the country.

"An eradication of Christians," ACN warned, "was -- and still is -- the specific and stated objective of extremist groups at work in Iraq."

Bands of extremist terrorists began targeting followers of Christ not long after the 2003 overthrow of President Saddam Hussein, with al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) proclaiming publicly that all "infidels" in Iraq should prepare for death.

But after a focused, years-long social, political and military campaign by coalition forces, AQI was defeated and beaten back into the country's western desert. In 2011, the remaining terrorists withdrew from Iraq altogether, heading north into Syria to regroup amid its widening civil war.

In 2014, President Obama's policy of disengagement allowed the extremists to come roaring back. Sweeping down from the north, the reinvigorated group -- now calling itself "ISIS" -- overran northern Iraq, home to the majority of the country's Christians.

During its three-year rule, ISIS waged war against Iraqi Christians. Houses were plundered. Churches were torched. Thousands were raped, tortured and murdered.

Even now, a year after the collapse of ISIS Caliphate, the position of Iraqi Christians is extremely precarious.

According to documentarian Gwendolen Cates, who has spent much of the past three years on the ground in the country, "The Christians of Iraq, along with other religious minorities, live in constant fear and face potential genocide. ... The minorities are being increasingly 'ghettoized,' with their land being taken."

In March, The Baghdad Post reported that Christians are "suffering under Iran's growing influence in their country," with "non-Muslim minority communities ... systemically targeted by foreign fundamentalists" pouring into Iraq.

In the midst of their suffering, Iraqi Christians have been largely abandoned by the West.

Though President Trump has reversed the Obama administration's "lead from behind" approach, among European countries only Hungary has committed to preserving Iraq's Christian community.

According to ACN's 2017 study, "Governments in the West and the U.N. failed to offer Christians in countries such as Iraq and Syria the emergency help they needed as genocide got underway. If Christian organizations and other institutions had not filled the gap, the Christian presence could already have disappeared in Iraq."

"The defeat of Daesh [ISIS] and other Islamists ... offers the last hope of recovery for Christian groups threatened with extinction," it adds. "Many would not survive another similar violent attack."

Sat, 04/07/2018 - 14:27
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