Iraq’s Christians And Religious Cleansing In The Middle East

Our guest blogger is Brian Katulis, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

iraqchristians.JPGOne issue swept under the rug by the cheerleading about how the Iraq “surge” has worked is the plight of religious minorities in Iraq.

This weekend, National Public Radio’s Corey Flintoff reported on the pervasive climate of fear among Iraq’s Christians in northern Iraq. In recent weeks, thousands of Christians have fled Mosul in the face of attacks and persecution, seeking refuge in villages north of the city in the Ninevah Plain.

This religious persecution is part of a wider problem that has led to internal displacements and the exodus of tens of thousands Christians from Iraq –- a phenomenon noted last year in this op-ed from Center from the American Progress associates just as the 2007 surge was being implemented:

While conservatives in America have warned of a cultural war against Christians by liberals and secularists in the United States, an actual war of attrition on Christians is unfolding in Iraq. Indeed, the plight of Iraq’s Christians points to a cruel irony — an American president whose tight grip on conservative Christian voters at home helped propel him to the White House has stood by and watched the destruction of some of the world’s oldest Christian communities.

An editorial in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times underscores the religious cleansing that is taking place not only in Iraq but the broader Middle East -– in places like Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, Christians feel less welcome and less secure.

In Iraq, the still-difficult security situation has motivated Christian communities to form their own militias; Iraqi Christians perhaps took their cues from one often-overlooked component of the 2007 Iraq surge strategy –- building up independent paramilitaries that operate outside of the authority of the Iraqi government.

Christians in Iraq have complained that the Iraqi security forces have done little or nothing to protect them. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki recently blamed the attacks on Christians against “the terrorist Al Qaeda organization and the remnants of the former regime” and pledged to protect Christians. This past weekend, Iraqi security forces arrested individuals in connection with the attacks on Christians, according to a spokesman at the Iraqi ministry of defense. But it remains to be seen whether these arrests are part of a broader strategy aimed at making the Iraqi Christian community feel more secure.

Some Iraqi Christian leaders have advocated for a special enclave for their community, and the exclusion of special provisions for Christian minorities from the recently approved provincial elections law prompted thousands of Iraqi Christians to protest for greater autonomy earlier this autumn.

As outlined in this recent Center for American Progress report, the surge of U.S. forces did not achieve its central goal –- achieving a sustainable power sharing agreement among Iraq’s leading political factions. But minority groups like Christians have suffered too –- and as the situation in Iraq evolves, it is important to keep in mind the thousands of Iraqis who remain unprotected by any of the assorted security forces or militias that rule Iraq today.