U.S. should help Iraqi minorities

Given the news that routinely comes out of Iraq, it is not surprising that a speech by the vicar of the Anglican church of Baghdad did not attract most of America’s attention. The vicar of the Anglican church of Baghdad made a simple statement on the fate of minorities in Iraq before the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. “Coalition policies,” he said, “have failed the Christians and non-Muslims.” Dramatic words, perhaps, but surely the situation cannot be as grave as he states.

If anything, the situation is actually worse. Consider the case of the Mandaeans, an ancient religious sect who believe that their founder was John the Baptist. Mandaeism has survived for over 2,000 years, and one of the key tenets of their faith is pacifism. In modern Iraq this works about as well as you would expect. Over 20,000 Mandaeans have fled the country out of a prewar population of 25,000.

Iraq’s Christian population has also suffered severe persecution. It has been estimated that around half a million refugees, moving within Iraq as well as out of the country, are Christians of various denominations. Christian leaders within Iraq are routinely assassinated, and Christian businesses are often targeted for extortion and arrest. The situation is so bad that it is estimated that over half of Iraq’s Christian population has left the country.

This needs to be put into perspective. Religious communities that could survive Roman Emperors, Mongol hordes and Saddam Hussein may not be able to survive several years of American occupation. Despite this situation, however, America has taken in an insignificant number of refugees from Iraq. Between 2003 and May of 2007, America accepted fewer than 800 refugees from Iraq, compared to Sweden’s 18,000 in 2006 alone. And while the Bush administration did state that it would accept 7,000 additional refugees over the course of this year, this is clearly a drop in the bucket.

Fortunately, some lawmakers have recognized the injustice of this situation and have proposed a bill in the House of Representatives, H.R. 2265, to increase the number of refugees America accepts from Iraq. The bill would primarily focus on helping “female-headed households and unaccompanied children,” “religious communities” and other minority groups “subject to violence, intimidation, or discrimination by state or non-state actors.” The bill would also assist Iraqis who have worked with the United States and various American agencies in Iraq for a year and who have a “manifestly not unfounded fear of persecution, violence, or harm . on account of the work” that they did.

Whether or not you support the war, it is obvious that America has a debt to the minorities of Iraq and should help them leave the country. I urge anyone who feels that the plight of Iraq’s minorities is our fault to write your congressperson and tell him or her that he or she should support H.R. 2265.

Information from – uscirf.gov, washingtonpost.com, ap.google.com, news.bbc.cok.uk, govtrack.us, uscirf.gov and cbsnews.com