The world has become so focused on Iran that we have neglected to pay attention to what is happening in Iraq. That was a mistake. Without our taking any notice, a religious expulsion has been taking place in Iraq. The Christians of Iraq are being murdered, displaced and disgraced.
Twelve years ago, under the reign of Saddam Hussein, about 1.4 million Christians lived in Iraq. Six years later, in 2003, the year the United States entered Iraq, that number dropped to 800,000. Today, another six years later, the German Catholic Relief Organization Kirche puts the number of Christians living in Iraq at 400,000 - 500,000.
Where have the Christians of Iraq gone? They have been decimated, fallen victim to a campaign that systematically intimidates, persecutes and even executes Christians. The plan, instituted by Islamic extremists, forces Iraq's Christian population out of certain neighborhoods, towns, cities and ultimately, out of Iraq.
In attacks against these non-Muslim residents of Iraq the Armenian Church was leveled and the home of the Chaldean Archbishop was bombed. After attacks on Christian-owned businesses the business owners were brutally killed and offered as examples to what can and will happen to other Christian practitioners.
This past week, several Christian churches came under attack. In one incident, a church in Baghdad was bombed moments after completing a religious rite. Several worshippers were killed as they were leaving Sunday Mass. On April 14th, in the town of Mosul, an ancient place once heavily populated by Christians and now almost completely vacated, a Christian father and his family were executed by Muslim extremists. Vehicles have been banned near all churches in the nearby towns of Tilkaif and Hamdaniyah in an attempt to prevent car bombings. These acts of intimidation are having the desired effect.
Christians in Iraq are fearful of retaliation and rightfully so -local Iraqi police are believed to be complicit in these acts. To be fair, the police have taken some actions and even issued precautions during large marches and Muslim memorials in order to protect the Christian minority, but, like in Tilkaif and Hamdaniyah, those moves are more cosmetic than convincing.
Iraq must learn to self-govern and we in the West have taken upon ourselves the responsibility of teaching Iraqis to govern. One lesson we have forgotten, however, is to teach Iraqis that the principle of protecting minority rights is not merely a lofty ideal, it is an obligation, it is one of the building blocks of a society.
The Christian community in Iraq has a long and wondrous history dating back centuries. So did the Jewish community. Once upon a time centuries ago Iraq had a culture that understood minorities and allowed them to flourish. Today, there are no Jews left in Iraq. We cannot let the Christians of Iraq suffer that same fate.