- The Washington Times - Friday, December 10, 2010

In late October, a Chaldean (Assyrian) Catholic church in Baghdad was attacked during Sunday worship services, killing 58 and wounding 78.

Sadly, this horrible attack was no anomaly. The persecution of Middle Eastern Christians has been practiced with enthusiasm in Iraq for centuries. My own grandparents and other family members escaped a genocide of Assyrian Christians at the hands of the Turks during World War I, eventually settling in America. It is estimated that half of the total Assyrian population does not live in the Middle East, largely because of extremely violent religious intolerance.

The genocide in the Middle East between 1914 and 1920 was intended to eradicate Christianity from the region, as it left more than 500,000 Assyrians and 1 million Armenians dead. This extermination of Christianity continued into the contemporary region, especially in Iraq. The oppressive Ba’ath Party regime under tyrant Saddam Hussein frequently ordered unjust executions and unwarranted detentions of Assyrian Christians, forcing churches to go underground to avoid danger.

Even after Saddam was ousted by the U.S.-led coalition in 2003, the violence against Christians continued and, in some cases, dramatically increased. More than half the Iraqi Christian population has fled the country in the past 20 years.

The removal of Saddam from power was a great moment for Christians, Iraq and the Middle East. However, the persecution continues. The present violence between Shiite and Sunni Muslims has become the greatest obstacle preventing Iraqi reconstruction, although radical elements from both Islamic denominations share a common objective of eliminating Christians. The U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq must adapt their strategy to prioritize the safety of Christians and other religious groups.

RICHARD R. PERA

Washington