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President Bush says he wants to free Iraq, to liberate it from the oppression of totalitarianism, to create a new model for liberty in the Middle East.

But Christians are fleeing while they can because the new constitution makes Iraq an officially Islamic republic.

When the significant Christian community in Iraq failed to get even one seat on the executive council of the provisional government, the exodus began.

Christians also took as a cue the fact that they got only one ministry post in the new government – the Ministry of Emigration. Was that a hint? Apparently Christians in Iraq think so.

The churches are filled with Iraqis filling out baptismal forms required for the leaving the country.

One deacon told Insight:

On a recent night, the church had to spend more time on filling out baptismal forms needed for leaving the country than they did on the service. We have been flooded with parishioners desperate to leave the country, and as they cannot get an exit permit without a baptismal certificate from the church, we have been swamped with requests. … In recent days, nearly 400 families, as far as we can tell, have filled out baptismal forms to leave the country. Our community is being decimated.

According to figures from the Saddam Hussein regime, there are about 2.5 million Assyrian Christians in Iraq, representing about 10 percent of the total population of the country.

There would be many more had the Assyrians not been systematically slaughtered in the last days of the Ottoman Empire. It is estimated that two-thirds of the population was wiped out in the early part of the 20th century. The Assyrians are not eager to see that kind of persecution again under Islamic rule.

“We thought the Americans were going to bring us freedom and democracy,” one Christian told Insight. “Instead, they are promoting Islam. We do not understand it. … We love the Americans! We are so grateful for them removing Saddam and giving us back our freedom. We do not want their effort to be a failure if the dictatorship of Saddam is replaced by the dictatorship of Islam.”

He continued: “The American-funded TV station, Al Iraqia, broadcasts Muslim programs four times every day and for two hours each Friday, but nothing from the other religions. The recent inauguration of the new government was opened by a Muslim mullah reciting a long passage and a prayer from the Quran, but none of our priests were invited. Why do they do this? Why do the Americans promote Muslims? They need to promote equality and democracy and freedom, not Muslim dictatorship.”

Already Iraqi Christians are seeing the first signs of harassment and intimidation by the Muslim majority.

“Our women are accosted on the street and intimidated to start dressing according to Islamic tradition, our businesses are being burned, and the constant harassment is because of the attitude of appeasement toward Muslims,” said one priest.

Sharia law is the law of the land in the new Iraq. That means only Muslims are first-class citizens. We created a similar situation in Afghanistan, where the new constitution has been criticized by human-rights groups as a kind of “Taliban-lite.”

Is it too much for the United States to demand that this Christian minority – and all other ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq – be protected and afforded full citizenship rights under the new government and constitution?

If so, was the sacrifice of American lives really worth it?

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