Washington (CNSNews.com) - The Bush administration has “turned a blind eye” to the plight of Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) said Tuesday at an event sponsored by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Wolf blamed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and even Christian churches in the United States for not coming to the aid of people in Iraq who are fleeing the country by the thousands to avoid torture and even death because of their allegiance to non-Muslim faiths.
“We are spending billions of dollars and have shed the blood of some of this country’s finest, and the U.S. government has not done a darn thing to protect the freedom and safety – forget freedom – the safety of Christians in Iraq,” Wolf said. “Secretary Rice has failed when it comes to this point.
“When I talk about it, I get mad,” Wolf said.
Tuesday’s press conference marked the release of the commission’s 2008 study on religious freedom around the globe. The commission also announced that it voted 5-4 to elevate Iraq from the watch list of countries where religious persecution is suspected, to a “country of particular concern” because of “ongoing severe abuses of religious freedom and based on the Iraqi government’s toleration of these abuses.”
The report names the minority religious groups being persecuted in Iraq, including the ancient Chaldean Catholics and Assyrian Christians, the Sabean Mandaeans and the Yazidis.
“The lack of effective government action to protect these communities from abuses has established Iraq among the most dangerous places on earth for religious minorities,” said Felice D. Gaer, chairwoman of the commission.
Aside from a panel of seven of the nine commissioners, several other lawmakers weighed in on the commission’s report and recommendations at the press conference.
“In the last three months alone it is estimated that about half of the 20,000 Christians in the largely Kurdish city of Mosul have fled that city,” Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said in a prepared statement. “Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, over one-third of the Christian population of Iraq, a community of some 800,000, have left the country.”
In a joint statement by Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), co-chairmen of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, the lawmakers said both the U.S. and Iraqi governments should be held accountable for the ongoing religiously motivated violence in Iraq.
“The Iraqi government has a moral obligation to protect the rights of all minority communities by implementing concrete solutions to ensure their safety,” the statement said. “The United States must take the lead and provide a ‘humanitarian surge’ in responding to this crisis.”
The commission’s report provides details of violence against Christians in Iraq, including the February 2008 abduction and murder of the Chaldean archbishop of Mosul, Paulos Faraj Rahho, and two of his aides. In April 2008, Assyrian Orthodox priest Youssef Adel was killed in a drive-by shooting in Baghdad.
The summary of the report details numerous recommendations the U.S. and Iraqi governments should take.
Recommendations for Iraqi action include training and funding police units representative of minority communities to enhance security in neighborhoods and places of worship, and prosecution of individuals or groups that commit human rights violations. It also calls for changes in the Iraqi constitution, including revising Article 2, which guarantees “the Islamic identity of the majority” to ensure the “identity of minorities” in Iraq.
The long list of recommendations for the U.S. government – noted by panelists and Wolf to be aimed at the incoming Obama administration – includes increased funding for the cause of reducing violence against religious minorities and the creation of task forces to study the issue and to send a human rights special envoy to Iraq.
The report also calls for the upcoming election in Iraq to be “safe and fair,” and recommends that the U.S. government also address the plight of religious refugees who have fled Iraq, including facilitating the resettlement of the “most vulnerable Iraqis” in the United States and to work to curtail delays in that resettlement process.