Iraqi Christian protesters demand end to 'ethnic cleansing' in Iraq


Chaldean Christians exiled from Iraq on Sunday demonstrated outside Sweden’s parliament to draw attention to the plight of their fellow Iraqi minorities.  Demonstrators denounced what they said was “a new wave of ethnic cleansing” in Iraq, warning that the ancient non-Muslim communities of Iraq could be wiped out by sectarian violence and intimidation.

The protests come just days before an international conference dedicated to political and economic reform, Cybercast News Service reports.  Attendees at the conference, scheduled for Thursday near Stockholm, include U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki.  The conference is a follow-up to last year’s International Compact with Iraq.

Speeches at the protesters’ rally focused on the continuing harassment and violence inflicted by fundamentalists in Iraq.  Speakers denounced abductions and assaults on girls and women and also the forcing of women to wear veils in line with some Islamic doctrines.  They also decried extremists’ murder of Christian clerics such as Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul Paulos Faraj Rahho, who died after gunmen abducted him from a church earlier this year.

Rally participants called for international support for an autonomous safe region for Iraqi Christians in the historical Assyrian region in northern Iraq.

"A new wave of ethnic cleansing is going on in Iraq," Iraqi Christian representative Behiye Hadodo said at the rally. "If these atrocities continue, the Chaldean, Syriac and Assyrian communities there will be wiped out altogether, creating a new catastrophe for humanity."

The Iraqi Assyrians are a non-Arab ethnic minority located mainly in northeastern Iraq.  Most are adherents of Christian churches, including the Chaldean Catholic and Syriac Orthodox Churches.

A 1987 census reported about 1.4 million Christians in Iraq.  Their numbers began to decrease after the Gulf War in 1990.  Before the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, their population was at about 800,000.  Many have fled persecution, including killings, church bombings, kidnappings, and forced conversions instigated by Islamic radicals.

Many have moved to Syria and Jordan, while others have emigrated to northern Europe, Australia, and the United States.  Nearly half of the estimated 70,000 Iraqi Christians in Europe live in Sweden.

According to Cybercast News Service, last year the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent body advising the White House and Congress, placed Iraq on a “watch list” due to the unchecked violence against religious minorities.  The commission also indicated there was “evidence of collusion between Shi'a militias and Iraqi government ministries.”

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