The Happy Arab News Service

Monday, May 7, 2007

The Melkites

Associated Press

Sun May 6

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As many as 50 percent of Iraq's Christians may already have left the country, according to a report issued Wednesday by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a federal monitoring and advisory group in Washington D.C.

"These groups face widespread violence from Sunni insurgents and foreign jihadis, and they also suffer pervasive discrimination and marginalization at the hands of the national government, regional governments, and para-state militias," said the report.

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In Saddam-era Iraq, the country's 800,000 Christians — many of them Chaldean-Assyrians and Armenians, with small numbers of Roman Catholics — were generally left alone. Many, such as
Saddam Hussein's foreign minister and deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz, reached the highest levels of power.

But after U.S. forces toppled Saddam, insurgents launched a coordinated bombing campaign in the summer of 2004 against Baghdad churches, sending some Christians fleeing in fear.

A second wave of anti-Christian attacks hit last September after
Pope Benedict XVI made comments perceived to be anti-Islam. Church bombings spiked and a priest in the northern city of Mosul was kidnapped and later found beheaded.

In the recent violence, residents of the Baghdad neighborhood of Dora said gunmen knocked on the doors of Christian families, demanding they either pay jizya — a special tax traditionally levied on non-Muslims — or leave. The jizya has not been imposed in Muslim nations in about 100 years.

One man, Arakan Admon, was wounded in a drive-by shooting last week when his family ignored the threats, relatives said.

In response to the threats, about 70 percent of Dora's Christians have fled, police said.

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The Christian communities in Iraq are in the state of collapse. Dozens of thousands of Christians left Lebanon since last summer's war. And in the West Bank the Christian community is steadily dwindling.

The Christians are still safe in Syria under the protection of the Alawite regime. But their special treatment will sure bring accusations of collaboration when the regime is gone. The future of the Christian community in Syria can hardly be seen beyond the Asad regime.

Apart from the Coptic Christians of Egypt, we are probably living through the last decade of a significant Christian presence in the Middle East.

It's also a safe bet that a collapse of the Syrian regime will develop into the moment of truth for the Alawis. They will either fight back and carve up for themselves a state in Latakia or they will follow the Christians on the way to nowhere.

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