- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 15, 2007

Religious freedom has sharply deteriorated in Iraq over the past year because of the insurgency and violence targeting people of specific faiths, despite the U.S. military buildup intended to improve security, a State Department report said yesterday.

The Annual Report on International Religious Freedom found the violence is not confined to the well-known rivalry between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims.

“The ongoing insurgency significantly harmed the ability of all religious believers to practice their faith,” said the report released by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

In her remarks, Miss Rice said the report, covering 198 countries and territories, is an important element of President Bush’s efforts to promote religious freedom worldwide.

“Freedom of religion is integral to efforts to combat the ideology of hatred and intolerance that fuels global terrorism,” she said.

“What we’re dealing with in Iraq is really a security situation that makes it difficult for religious practice to occur in a normal way,” said John Hanford, the department’s ambassador at large for international religious freedom. He added that Iraq’s constitution guarantees religious freedom but said this is hampered by sectarian violence and that worshippers get caught in the “crossfire” of broader attacks.

The report found that members of all religions in Iraq are “victims of harassment, intimidation, kidnapping, and killings” and that “frequent sectarian violence included attacks on places of worship.”

Conditions worsened after the February 2006 bombing of a revered Shi’ite mosque in the town of Samarra, the report said, and have continued to deteriorate over the past year.

It said “non-Muslims [are] especially vulnerable to pressure and violence, because of their minority status and, often, because of the lack of a protective tribal structure.”

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