Resolution introduced to protect persecuted Christians in Iraq

A man packs a bag, leaving his car behind, at the Khazair checkpoint after fleeing Mosul last month. Credit: R. Nuri UNHCR/ACNUR via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Congressional representatives have introduced a resolution to protect persecuted Christians and other minorities in Iraq, as Islamist militants consolidate control over portions of the country's northwest.

“For 1,600 years, Mosul has been a center of Christian life,” Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb), referring to Iraq’s second-largest city, said in a July 30 speech before Congress. “Today, not a single Christian remains in the city.”

The Sunni militant organization ISIS took control of Mosul, in northern Iraq, in June, and on July 18 the group issued an ultimatum to Christians in the city insisting they convert to Islam, pay jizya, or be killed.

Thousands of Christians and other religious minorities fled the city, seeking refuge in villages in the Nineveh Plains and Kurdistan.

“We are witnessing an ongoing crime against humanity,” the congressman stressed as he introduced the resolution.

Fortenberry, along with Anna Eshoo (D-Calif), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Frank Wolf (R-Va.), introduced a resolution that would help protect Christians and other religious minorities facing religious as well as ethnic persecution in Iraq's Nineveh province, much of which is now controlled by ISIS.

The resolution calls for action to ensure safety and basic human resources such as water and shelter for civilians.

Some of the Christians displaced from Mosul have fled to the towns of Bakhdida, Bartella, and Bashiqa, all of which are within 30 miles of Mosul. They all suffer from a lack of drinking water, electricity, and medicine, ISIS having cut off their supplies.

The homes of Christians who have fled Mosul have been marked with the Arabic letter 'nun', standing for 'nusrani' – meaning Nazarene, or Christian. The homes have been confiscated for use by ISIS.

ISIS have not limited their attacks to Christians, however; all non-Sunni communities of Mosul are targets. Shia mosques have been demolished, and the Yazidi, an ethno-religious community, have also been targeted. The homes of Shiites have been marked with 'ra', standing for 'rejecter.'

Currently, the bi-partisan resolution has more than 50 co-sponsors.

The bill would require mechanisms that would prevent the diversion of humanitarian aid from its intended recipients, and make preparations for the resettlement and economic assistance of victims of persecution.

If passed, the resolution would call on Congress, the U.S. president and secretary of state, and the UN Security Council, to consider “an urgent international humanitarian intervention to speed assistance to communities facing ferocious ethnic and religious cleansing,” Fortenberry explained.

“The world cannot simply watch as the region’s refugee crisis worsens every day. We must act for the principles of basic human rights and religious freedom that our international endeavors seek to champion.”

More than 1 million Christians lived in Iraq before the 2003 U.S. invasion, but their numbers have now plummeted and observers fear that they could soon be eliminated from the country altogether.

According to Patriarch Sako, Mosul itself had 60,000 Christians prior to the U.S. invasion in 2003, which had fallen to 35,000 by this year.


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