By Anna Gustafson
U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside) introduced a resolution last week condemning the anti-Christian violence in Iraq that has prompted an exodus of Christians from the country.
The resolution also calls on President Barack Obama, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Iraqi government and its police force to help protect Iraq’s Christian minority that has experienced what American officials have said is a growing campaign of violence against them.
“It’s outrageous and unacceptable that the Christian population of Iraq has to hide or flee just to practice their religion,” said Ackerman, chairman of the House of Representatives Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia. “The thugs and killers in al-Qaeda who have been terrorizing Iraqi Christians are intent on ethnically cleaning Iraq. Their efforts must be stopped. These vermin need to be tracked down, flushed out and crushed.”
Reps. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) worked with Ackerman to introduce the bill Dec. 14, and Ackerman noted the legislators represent a wide variety of religions to stress the importance of protecting religious freedom for all people.
Berman and Ackerman are Jewish, Ellison is Muslim and Hirono and Johnson are Buddhist.
The lawmakers said that since the American-led invasion in 2003, Iraqi Christians have been particularly targeted by al-Qaeda and other militants for murder, abduction, torture and bombings. U.S. officials estimated that about half of the 800,000 to 1.4 million Christians living in Iraq before the war have left because of the violence.
“The moral costs of the war we’ve fought in Iraq, which are already incredibly high, will become truly unbearable if, as an indirect consequence of getting rid of Saddam Hussein, the Christian presence in Iraq that began in the first century A.D. gets wiped out,” Ackerman said. “We and the Iraqi government need to prioritize this issue to prevent that from happening.”
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has reported that all religious minorities, not just Christians, have been persecuted.
“The violence, forced displacement, discrimination, marginalization and neglect suffered by members of these groups threaten then-ancient communities’ very existence in Iraq,” the committee’s report from May stated.
Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4574.