With the withdrawal of the US led forces from Iraq, Operation Iraqi freedom turns into Operation Iraqi Christians decimation.
Around fourteen months back, in November 2010, I had written about the pressures on the Christian minority community in Iraq and my fear about their extinction from their motherland in one of my piece, “Operation Iraqi freedom and Christians in Iraq” which was carried by number of news portals.
Some of the admirers of US regime, my friends in US and even some of the Muslim Activists had disagreed with the analysis and had responded with their disagreement for different reasons. A good number disagreed because of their hate for Saddam and others for the exposure of the indifferent temperamental behavior of the some Muslims towards the religious minorities in Muslim society.
After a month of the withdrawal of the Allied forces from Iraq and its becoming a sovereign state, one of the serving US Military Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio admitted in an interview to CNA in Rome, “Yes, you can say in a certain sense that the invasion of Iraq did provoke this tremendous diminution of the Christian population in that country. And what the future holds, that still remains to be seen,” Archbishop Timothy believes that the collapse of Iraq’s Christian population is among the legacies of America’s invasion in 2003 and he is perfectly correct.
Before the invasion of Iraq, Christian population was around 1.4 million of the total population and the community had enjoyed all kinds of support and patronage during Saddam’s regime which dwindled to around one hundred forty thousand at the time of the withdrawal of the Allied forces. Where they vanished? It’s a million dollar question.
Secular Saddam Hussein had always trusted Christians and have appointed them to the highest government posts beside giving them freedom to profess their religion with dignity.
Overwhelming majority of the world’s population had considered Tariq Aziz, a Christian catholic and the international face of Saddam’s regime, who was also foreign minister, as a Muslim. Christians being considered staunch supporters of Saddam’s regime faced twin pressures with its downfall, the foremost being the coreligionists of the invading forces and for others as the former ally of tyrant Saddam Hussain.
The Sunni Muslims of Iraq were nearly convinced and shocked to see the switch of the loyalty of the Christian community to the invading Allied forces and the Kurds & the Shia’s hate reached its zenith because of the community’s past alliance with Saddam. The irony of the whole scenario was that Saddam protected them where as the Allied forces under US command totally shied to extend a protective cordon for them. With the rising violence against the community the Christians were forced to live as displaced community in their own country and in other countries.
What the Americans did was a catastrophe for a multi- religious Iraqi society when they literally open their embassy gates for granting refugee visas to the Assyrians, Armenians and the Catholic Christians and created zones for them at different places in the suburbs of the American cities. The European Union too followed the policy and a good number of them migrated to the invading member countries of the European Union.
During one of my visit to the hub of the Chaldean Christian community in USA, I was amused to know about the fair treatment the community had received from Saddam. One of the Chaldean refugee pastor in US told me that after the Iraq invasion, the open patronage of Condaleeza Rice, the then National Security Advisor to President Bush, morally and financially to her fellow Protestant Iraqi Christians angered the Iraqi Muslims-Sunni’s and the Shia’s and they started targeting Christian churches and the community with more vigor.
The pastor was of the view that ‘Wahhabi Sunni’s soon started getting patronage from one of the gulf allies of America’ and the problem took alarming proportions. More than one hundred thousand migrated to neighboring Jordan too and are still living there. Thousands internally displaced took refuge in Northern Iraq in the plain of Nineveh, the historic homeland of Christians of Iraq.
Monsignor John Kozar, President of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, recently spoke of the “strong determination” some Iraqi Catholics have to go back home. After his visit to Jordan, Monsignor opined, “I think they have a yearning to return to the homeland, and that homeland for them means practicing their Chaldean-rite Christianity, that has become very, very important to them.”
While announcing the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq, President Obama had confidently thundered on 15th December 2011, “they were leaving behind a “sovereign, stable and self-reliant,” country and just 10 days after his pronouncement the Christian community in Iraq was under such tremendous pressure that fear of an attack forced Christians during Chrism to cancel the Chaldean Catholics’ midnight Christmas celebrations. Services were moved to the daytime, and Christians were warned by community leaders not to display decorations outside their homes.
I wonders whom to blame for the decimation of the patriotic Iraqi Christians from Iraq, invading Allied forces under US command or Al Qaida?
(Navaid Hamid is Secretary, South Asia Council for Minorities (SACM) and a member of the National Integration Council. He can be reached at [email protected])
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect BH’s editorial policy.