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Religious intolerance Iraq's Christians under assault

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A years-long campaign of sectarian violence against the Christian minority in Iraq has forced tens of thousands of Christians to flee their homeland.


In the years since the fall of Saddam Hussein, Christian communities have been the target of bombings, shootings, intimidation and other threats by radical Muslims.


Exact numbers are not available, but the Office of the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees estimates that more than half of Iraq's Christians have fled the Muslim-dominated country since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Christians then numbered between 800,000 and 1.4 million.


Christians and other minorities accounted for about 3 percent of Iraq's pre-war population. But since then, they make up 20 percent of those who have gone abroad out of fear caused by bombings and attacks such as the siege on a Baghdad church in October that left 53 people dead.


It was followed by other shootings in the capital and Mosul that claimed the lives of another dozen Christians. Christians have been targeted in their homes and businesses. More than 12,000 Christians fled Mosul in October 2008 after a series of assassinations killed 14 Christians. In February, the killing of 10 Christians sent 4,000 Christians fleeing to Nineveh in the Kurdish-controlled region of Iraq or to Syria.


Out of 100,000 Christians who once lived in Mosul, only an estimated 5,000 remain. " I expect that a month from now not a single Christian will be left in Mosul," one Christian refugee told the New York Times.


The Islamic State of Iraq has said it would kill Christians "wherever they can reach them."


Officially, Christians are supposed to be protected and entitled to five seats in the 325-member parliament. However, many of them suspect Iraqi security forces are unwilling to provide protection.


The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in May faulted the government's failure to protect Christians and other minorities.


"The violence, forced displacement, discrimination, marginalization and neglect suffered by members of these groups threaten these ancient communities' very existence in Iraq," the commission said.


Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has called for tolerance of Christians and other minority faiths. His government, though, needs to do more to ensure the protection of religious minorities.


The United States has devoted much to help Iraq build a better country. Religious persecution is a step backward.

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