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Congress to Press Obama on Religious Persecution

January 22, 2011

By Ken Timmerman

Members of Congress from a bipartisan human rights panel on Thursday challenged the Obama administration to get serious about putting pressure on the governments of Egypt and Iraq to halt violent attacks on Christian minorities. "Human rights has been significantly demoted in the past two years, and it's appalling," said Rep. Christopher Smith, R-N.J.

"This administration gets an F for its response to human rights abuses." For Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., the granddaughter of Assyrian and Armenian Christians who fled the genocide carried out by the Ottoman Turks and their Kurdish allies at the end of World War I, the dramatic upsurge in attacks against Christians in Iraq and Egypt was reminiscent of stories she had learned from childhood. "Going to the market and riding the bus, Iraqi Christians face death every day," she said.

"There is no question that Christians are being targeted" in Iraq. Rep. Eshoo called on the Obama administration to "move this up in the set of priorities of the State Department" by elaborating a "comprehensive strategy" for dealing with the persecution of Christians in Iraq. "A crisis calls for more than good intentions," she said. Although tens of billions of U.S. taxpayer funds have gone to reconstruction programs in Iraq, a scant $20 million has been allocated to projects in the predominantly Christian Nineveh Plain in northern Iraq, the ancestral homeland of many Iraqi Christians and a relative safe haven to which thousands of families have fled in recent years.

Worse, the way U.S. aid money has been spent is "not transparent," Rep. Eshoo said. So she and other members of the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate recently asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a far-reaching audit of U.S. reconstruction assistance to Iraq, in particular as it touches on projects for Christian areas. Juliana Taimoorazy, president of the Iraqi Christian Relief Council of Chicago, Ill., told members in private meetings on Thursday that most of the $20 million has been misappropriated or diverted by the entities controlled by the neighboring Kurdish Regional Authority (KRG), including a private company allegedly controlled by the former prime minister of the Kurdish Region, Nechirvan Barzani.

"We have only seen $180,000 of that money reach the Nineveh Plain for a well," she said. Sister Maria Hanna, a Dominican nun who runs the al-Hayat maternity hospital in Baghdad, was promised a $1.2 million grant by the State Department to build a similar facility in Karakhosh in the Nineveh Plain. Instead, the money was paid out by the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Mosul to a different entity not operating in the Nineveh Plain, which currently has no hospital at all for a population estimated at around 100,000.

The lack of schools, jobs, industry, and infrastructure, coupled to an exploding population of refugees who have fled the violence in Baghdad and Mosul, has led local leaders to despair. "Many families leave after they have stayed here for awhile and see there are no jobs and they give up hope," Bassam Ballo, mayor of Tel Kaif in the Nineveh Plain, told me during a trip to the region two years ago. Since then, the situation has only gotten worse. Gwendolen Cates, a documentary filmmaker from New York who just returned from northern Iraq, was stunned and saddened by what she saw. "There is a level of despair I have not seen on any of my previous trips," she told me.

Some 1,800 Christian students at Mosul University are staying home from classes because they have received death threats -- in some cases, letters handed to them by Muslim security guards working at the university itself, she said. Rep. Eshoo said that a comprehensive strategy must address how to distribute assistance and development aid, how to protect communities at risk, how to help the Iraqi government in prosecuting the perpetrators of crimes against Christians, and streamlined asylum procedures for Iraqi Christians who are in imminent danger. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., who chaired Thursday's hearing of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission on Capitol Hill, slammed the Obama White House for its tepid response to the violence.

After the Oct. 31 attack on Our Lady of Salvation Catholic Church in Baghdad by Muslim jihadists that killed 58 Christians attending mass, the White House "failed to even mention the word 'Christian' or 'church,' suggesting that this attack was simply part of a broader pattern of generalized violence in Iraq and not a targeted attack against an indigenous faith community," Rep. Wolf said. Wolf said he was exploring legislation that would require the State Department to designate special representatives in the embassies in Baghdad and Cairo whose sole job will be to monitor human rights and religious persecution. In tandem with that move, Wolf said he wants President Obama to appoint a "special envoy" to persecuted minorities in the Middle East, who will report back to the president, the secretary of state, and Congress.

Wolf said he was motivated by the example of Sen. John Danforth, who was president Bush's special envoy to the Sudan and whose personal prestige was instrumental in brokering the peace deal that led to last week's referendum on independence for Southern Sudan. The Obama administration seems poised to oppose such a move, or to acquiesce in a way that prevents any meaningful action. Deputy Assistant of State Tamara Cofman Wittes was noncommittal when asked whether the State Department would favor such an appointment, noting that Republicans in the Senate had blocked the confirmation of the administration's nominee to become ambassador-at-large for religious freedom, a position created by Congress in legislation sponsored by Rep. Wolf that was strongly opposed by the Clinton administration.

The fact that it took the Obama administration two years to fill the ambassador-at-large position showed "a lack of passion" at the State Department to pursue religious persecution, Wolf said. Nina Shea, a member of the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom, also criticized the Obama administration for treating the latest bombings of Christian churches in Iraq and Egypt as isolated events. "The goal of the extremists is to drive Christians from Iraq," she said. "It is religious cleansing." Shea warned that the Commission this spring would debate whether to designate Egypt a Country of Particular Concern because of its failure to crack down on the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities. Designation by the commission could lead to U.S. economic sanctions, a diplomatic chill, and possibly even a cut-off in U.S. foreign aid to Egypt, which continues to receive more than $2 billion every year from the U.S. taxpayer.

Shea said that Egypt "needs to address incitement to violence by halting government subsidies to clerics and media who incite to violence." There have been documented cases recently of government clerics in Egypt issuing death threats to Coptic Christians, she said. Rep. Trent Franks issued a stern warning to the government of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. "It is increasingly difficult for us as Americans to maintain support for a government that is attacking the voices that would help sustain its own democracy, while defending the Islamic extremists who inflame religious intolerance," Franks said. "If no significant change takes place, I will call for the United States to reduce aid to Egypt." Dina Guirguis, a research fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said that Coptic Christians were being prosecuted by the Egyptian authorities "for praying inside their own homes without a permit."

Muslims converts to Christianity are routinely discriminated against by the authorities, who stamp into their identity papers that they are "former Muslims," a designation that is an open invitation to discrimination, she said. Coptic Christians account for roughly 10 percent of Egypt's 80 million population, while in Iraq the Christian community has been decimated by the massive exodus and today accounts for less than two percent of Iraq's 28 million people. Representatives of the Chaldo-Assyrian-Syriac communities in the United States were asking Congress to support last month's declaration by a coalition of 16 Christian groups inside Iraq for the creation of a "19th province" in Iraq in the Nineveh Plain.

"We don't want this to be only for the Christians," said David William Lazar, chairman of the American Mesopotamian Organization of California. "We want it to be the only true multicultural, pluralist province in all of Iraq." Until recently, Christians inside Iraq have been divided over whether to press their claim under Article 125 of the Iraqi constitution for a separate province. But the dramatic surge in Muslim violence against Christians has convinced many community leaders that self-government is the only way to guarantee enough security to prevent the remnant of the community still in Iraq from fleeing into exile.

"We have recruited 3,000 people to receive police training, but the Iraqi government refuses to fund it," said Alan Mansour, the U.S. representative of the Assyrian Democratic Movement (ADM). The ADM is the largest Christian party in Iraq and currently has three members in the Iraqi parliament. Some 700 Christian policemen trained using funds appropriated with help from Sen. Mark Kirk were "demoted to become local guards" by the Kurdish authorities, he added.

Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., the firebrand of the freshman class of tea party representatives, said he was eager to join the battle. "We have a responsibility to the Christians of Iraq. We need to stand up as a leader of the Judeo-Christian world and create options for Iraqi Christians so they can come to the United States or remain anchored to the ancestral homeland." West did two tours of duty as a U.S. Army officer in Iraq and served later in Afghanistan as a civilian adviser.

He wowed audiences in Florida during the election campaign with his frank assessment of the threat from jihadi Islam. "What's going on in Iraq today is religious genocide," he said. "When tolerance becomes a one-way street, it leads to cultural suicide." Read more on Congress to Press Obama on Religious Persecution Important: Do You Support Pres. Obama's Re-Election? Vote Here Now! By Ken Timmerman

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January = Kanoon II

Congress to Press Obama on Religious Persecution
Jan. 21, 2011

Abrogation in Islam and The Persecution
of Christians

Jan. 21, 2011

Last Christians Ponder Leaving a Hometown in Iraq Jan. 20, 2011

Assyrian Youth Black March Movement Conference in Detroit Jan. 19, 2011

Who Are the Real Hijackers of Islam? Jan. 10, 2011

Why Christians and Jews are Being Massacred in the Middle East Jan. 10, 2011

Restricted Freedoms in the Iraqi Christian Green Zone
Jan. 8, 2011

France asks for coordinated European Union response to threats against Christians in Middle East Jan. 5. 2011

Violent attacks against Christians could return in Egypt
Jan. 4. 2011

Egyptian Security Guards Withdrew One Hour Before Church Blast Jan. 2. 2011

We may be witnessing a new age of Christian persecution
Jan. 2. 2011

December = Kanoon I

Christians consider their future after more attacks in Iraq
Dec. 31. 2010

Ancient Tel Aviv Fortress has an Assyrian Origion Dec. 30. 2010

Rare Assyrian artifacts on display in Istanbul Dec. 30. 2010

Ancient Tablets Reveal Mathematical Achievements of Ancient Babylonian Culture Dec. 28. 2010

Christmas and New Year's Greetings 2010

Bipartisan Effort Pressures Obama to Help Iraq's Christians
Dec. 26, 2010

Around "1,100" Christian families have fled to to Kurdish north Dec. 21, 2010

U.N. cites 'a slow but steady exodus' of Iraqi Christians
Dec. 18, 2010

Genocide Film Stirs Emotions Dec, 18, 2010

Assyrians in Iraq face a stark choice: convert, die or leave Dec, 17, 2010

Iraqi Christians Want Their Own Province Dec, 17, 2010

The persecution of Christians in the ‘Muslim world’
Dec, 15, 2010

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Iraq’s war on Christians Dec, 15, 2010

Appeal for Iraq's Imperiled Religious Communities
Dec, 14, 2010

More Christians Flee Iraq After New Violence Dec, 12, 2010

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Dec. 11, 2010

Iraq Assyrians Mark 40 Days Since Church Carnage Dec. 10, 2010

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Demand For a Province in Kurdistan for Christians Dec. 6, 2010

Assyrian MP Calls on Iraqi Government to Safeguard Churches, Open Investigation Dec. 6, 2010

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Dec. 6, 2010

Iraq: Gunmen kill elderly Christian couple inside their Baghdad home Dec. 5, 2010

Assyrian Group Briefs EU Parliament Delegation On Iraq
Dec. 3, 2010

Iraq: Deadly Reminders of Unfinished Business 
Dec. 3, 2010

Protecting Our Christian Neighbours in Iraq Dec. 3, 2010

Catholic Bishops Back House Resolution to Protect Iraq's Christians Dec. 1, 2010

November = Tishreen II

Egypt Security forces use live ammunition and kill unarmed Christian Coptic Protesters Nov. 30, 2010

Western Economic Aid to Muslim Nations Who Hate Non-Muslims Nov. 29, 2010

Formation of Committee to assist Iraqi Christians and other Minorities Nov. 29, 2010


The Baghdad Assyrian Church Massacre: Waiting for Godot! Nov. 27, 2010

Christians in the Middle East essential for the survival of the Arab world Nov. 27, 2010

Australian Conference Calls Attention to Assyrian Genocide in Iraq Nov. 22, 2010

Homes of Christians set on Fire in Egypt Nov. 17, 201

Group will not celebrate Muslim Holiday in solidarity with the victims of the Church Massacre Nov. 17, 201o

Thousands Protest Attacks Against Iraqi Christians Nov. 12, 2010

Memorial Service Held in London for Baghdad Church Massacre Victims Nov. 12, 2010

Fear of jihad driving Christians from Iraq Nov. 10, 2010

Christian woman sentenced to death in Pakistan Nov. 10, 2010

Assyrians Demonstrate Around the World Against Baghdad Church Massacre Nov. 10, 2010

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Nov. 10, 2010

3 bombs explode outside Christian homes in Baghdad
Nov. 10, 2010

How an Iraqi Christian school became 82 percent Muslim
Iraq Nov. 10, 2010

Recent attack on church sheds light on Assyrians' plight
Iraq Nov. 9, 2010

Global Demonstrations against the Persecution of Christians of Iraq Nov. 9, 2010

Two Christians killed in Baghdad a week after massacre
Massacre Nov. 8, 2010

Worldwide Assyrian Demonstrations against Baghdad's Church Massacre Nov. 7, 2010

Al-Qaida is turning its focus on Iraq's vulnerable Christians
Nov. 7, 2010

Christians and Muslims issue joint statement condemning Iraqi church attack Nov. 6, 2010

Christian Massacre Spurs Assyrian-American Rally Nov. 6, 2010

Christians ‘on verge of extinction’ in Iraq, Muslim leader warns
Nov. 5, 2010

UNSC to discuss the security situation in Iraq Tuesday
Nov. 5, 2010

Islamic chauvinism drives Christians out Nov. 5, 2010

bloody, ruthless attack on landmark church in Iraq Nov. 3, 2010

Videos of the Attack on the Assyrian church on October 31-2010

Assyrians Should Be Granted Indigenous Group Status and Rights in Iraq Nov. 3, 2010

Operation Iraqi freedom and Christians in Iraq Nov. 1, 2010

Protest and demonstration in Ankawa against the murder of Christian worshipers in Baghdad Nov. 2, 2010

CNN update; include video- Death toll rises to 58 in Iraq church
Nov. 1. 2010

Death Toll Rises to 58 in Iraq Church Standoff Nov. 1. 2010

Baghdad attack a new low in Christian onslaught in Iraq
Nov. 1. 2010

Pictures of surviving Christians ater the killing in Iraq Nov. 1. 2010

Deadly Baghdad church siege highlights threat to Iraqi Christians
Nov. 1. 2010

Priests among 46 Christians killed in Iraq
Nov. 1. 2010 8:00 AM

Priests among 37 Christians killed in Iraq hostage drama
Nov. 1. 2010 1:00 AM

Iraqi worshipers, troops killed in church takeover
Nov. 1. 2010

October = Tishreen I

My Take on Tearing down the walls 30, 2010

swedishimmigration-policyon-iraqirefugees October 29, 2010

Ancient Winemaking Makes Resurgence in Southeast Turkey
October 29, 2010

Arabs and Turcomans Speak out Against Kurdish Demands in Kirkuk October 17, 2010

The Cost Of Moslem Intolerance October 6, 2010

2,700-year-old royal loyalty oath discovered in Turkey 15 October 2010

Muslim scholars address synod, say Middle East needs Christians Oct. 16, 2010

Christian Hymns of the church of the East in Assyrian aramaic by Reverend Genard Lazar
aug. 26, 2010

Eilul = September

The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia August 26, 2010

Assyrian Politician Attacked in Sweden Future 0f Democracy in the West 26, 2010

Vatican should prevent the exodus of Christians from the Middle East 26, 2010

Assyrian speech at the International Genocide Conference In Greece. Sept. 24, 2010

Egyptian Coptic Church Accused of Stockpiling Weapons
Sept. 22, 2010

Priceless Assyrian historic site Used as Kurdish resort Sept. 22, 2010

Poverty and unemployment among northern Christians sept. 21, 2010

Imam Khamenei: US and Zionism, Not Christianity, Responsible for Anti-Islamism Sep. 17, 2010

Iraq's top Shiite cleric urges tolerance towards Christians
Sep. 10, 2010

Assyrian Representative in the Iranian Parliament condemned the burning of the Koran in the U.S. Sep. 16, 2010

Christian Community of Iraq Halved in Seven Years 16, 2010

Why People worldwide lose Respect for Islam 16, 2010

The Assyrian Genocide and the Turkish Ambassador sept. 13, 2010

Dubakh = August

Religious Freedom and a Mosque August 30, 2010

Kidnapped Assyrian killed in Iraq despite ransom paid August 27, 2010

Why did the Golden Age of Islam come to an end? August 23, 2010

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Monument in memory of massacred Assyrians is ready to be unvailed in Australia August 4, 2010

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August 1. 2010

Tammuz = July

Baghdad Bishop Dies After Lifetime of Serving the Church July 28, 2010

Islam needs more tolerance, not more mosques July 27, 2010