Yalda Hajey, draped in traditional Assyrian scarves around his neck and waist, with red and green feathers protruding from his hat, dropped his vote into a ballot box, dipped his finger into a purple ink sponge and sprang into an Iraqi jig.

But Hajey's dancing mood turned somber as he talked about recent killings of fellow Christians in Iraq, including three bodyguards protecting a Christian ministry official and two men putting up posters in support of a Christian candidate. Media reports said their splattered blood covered the posters.

"I'm voting for those who martyred themselves," said Hajey, 53, of Chicago, who cast his ballot on Tuesday (Dec. 13).

Like Hajey, many of the tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians in the United States are deeply concerned about the future of their religious community in their native land. While the world's focus has largely been on Iraq's Muslim Shiites and Sunnis, Christians in Iraq are an important and suffering religious minority.

According to Iraqi legend, Christianity first came to the region by one of Christ's original apostles, with speculation centering on Thomas, who the Bible famously describes as an initial skeptic of the resurrection. Iraq has been called an ancient root of Christianity, but its Christians say they are as vulnerable as ever, making up an estimated 4 percent of the country's 26 million population.

"Christians are, in terms of history, the oldest inhabitants of Mesopotamia, known as modern Iraq," said Edward Odisho, a professor of culture and lingusitics, specializing in the Middle East, at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago.

Odisho said that Christianity predates Islam in Iraq by centuries, and "in the absence of democracy, they (Christians) have used religion ...

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