The war in Iraq, soon to enter its fifth year, has become a costly setback for Christianity in that troubled land. Though Iraq has been associated with biblical and Christian history for 5,000 years, the risk remains high that the current short-term disaster will become a long-term catastrophe.
At least two broad strategies must be employed to prevent that. The first is pursuit of religious freedom for Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq. This is a crucial missing link in peacemaking regionally and internationally. Robust freedom to believe must not be lost amid strategies for a military victory.
The consequences of ignoring this priority are real. Last October 21, radical Muslim insurgents burst into an Iraqi workplace in Baqouba, northeast of Baghdad. There they confronted 14-year-old Ayad Tariq and asked for his identity card. After noting his Christian affiliation and questioning him, they declared him a "dirty Christian sinner" and, according to media reports, beheaded him on the spot.
Though tied in part to Pope Benedict XVI's controversial comments about Mohammed, this was no isolated incident. Since 2003, church bombings, kidnappings of clergy, rape and murder of Christians, and other violence has taken a sickening toll. Women risk being attacked when they do not wear the hijab head covering. In some urban areas, 60 percent of churches have suspended worship services.
"These churches are not just laying lowthey are being eradicated," said Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom, in a recent congressional testimony. "Violence against Christians and members of the smallest minorities is conducted with impunity." UN officials recently labeled the flight of refugees ...1