As the last of Baghdad and Mosul’s Christian population packs up their cars and flee for their lives — a five-year-long trend, as NRO has noted — the New York Times today has finally taken note. As the piece reports, the Sunni terrorists who claimed responsibility for the horrific bombing of a Baghdad Syriac Catholic church packed with Sunday worshippers earlier this year are vowing to kill Christians “wherever they can reach them.” Moreover, the Shiite government of Iraq is doing next to nothing to protect or support the militia-less Christians
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent federal agency on which I serve, has pointed to the general indifference of Iraq’s government, which “creates a climate of impunity” for these Christians’ attackers. The Iraqi government also discriminates against and marginalizes these victims in the provision of essential government services: Diana Gorgiz, a Christian now finding refuge within the walls of one of Iraq’s ancient monasteries, told the Times that the Iraqi army told her family after an attack on her home in late November, “We cannot protect you.”
The Times reports that more than half of Iraq’s 1.4 million Christians have fled the country since 2003, but this is an estimate the U.N. has cited for years. The actual percentage of Christian refugees is likely far greater. In a reference to the fate of Iraq’s Jewish population, which stands at eight souls, down from a third of Baghdad’s population in the 1940s, the Times reports:
“It’s exactly what happened to the Jews,” said Nassir Sharhoom, 47, who fled last month to the Kurdish capital, Erbil, with his family from Dora, a once mixed neighborhood in Baghdad. “They want us all to go.”
The obliteration from Iraq of its ancient Christian presence — and with it the reality of religious freedom and pluralism — is an unintended consequence of the U.S. invasion but has never been factored in as a U.S. strategic concern. There is no Obama policy, not even a safe-haven or refugee policy, designed specifically to help Iraq’s Christians as they confront religious cleansing.
— Nina Shea is director of the Hudson Institute’s Center on Religious Freedom.