06 May 2007

Liberty in Iraq

Bombed church in Iraq [Credit: ChristiansOfIraq.com]

Under Saddam Hussein, there were about 800,000 Christians living in Iraq, many of them reaching the highest levels of power, such as former foreign minister and deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz.

Today, many churches are virtually empty and as many as half the Christians may have left the country in the last four years, according to a report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Is this really the liberty and freedom that we promised?

About Iraq, the report states:

This year the Commission has added Iraq to its Watch List, due to the alarming and deteriorating situation for freedom of religion and belief. Despite ongoing efforts to stabilize the country, successive Iraqi governments have not adequately curbed the growing scope and severity of human rights abuses. Although non-state actors, particularly the Sunni-dominated insurgency, are responsible for a substantial proportion of the sectarian violence and associated human rights violations, the Iraqi government also bears responsibility. That responsibility takes two forms. First, the Iraqi government has engaged in human rights violations through its state security forces, including arbitrary arrest, prolonged detention without due process, extrajudicial executions, and torture. These violations affect suspected Sunni insurgents, but also ordinary Sunnis who are targeted on the basis of their religious identity. Second, the Iraqi government tolerates religiously based attacks and other religious freedom abuses carried out by armed Shi’a factions including the Jaysh al-Mehdi (Mahdi Army) and the Badr Organization. These abuses include abductions, beatings, extrajudicial executions, torture and rape. Relationships between these para-state militias and leading Shi’a factions within Iraq’s ministries and governing coalition indicate that these groups operate with impunity and often, governmental complicity. Although many of these militia-related violations reveal the challenges evident in Iraq’s fragmented political system, they nonetheless reflect the Iraqi government’s tolerance—and in some instances commission—of egregious violations of religious freedom. Finally, the Commission also notes the grave conditions for non-Muslims in Iraq, including ChaldoAssyrian Christians, Yazidis, and Sabean Mandaeans, who continue to suffer pervasive and severe violence and discrimination at the hands of both government and non-government actors. The Commission has added Iraq to its Watch List with the understanding that it may designate Iraq as a CPC [country of particular concern] next year if improvements are not made by the Iraqi government.