The plight of Iraq’s Christian community—as followers of the Prince of Peace flee from the country they have lived in since ancient times, their homes and churches burned, their children kidnapped and raped, their priests murdered—has elicited barely any reaction from either the White House or the Muslim government it supports.  The destruction of the world’s oldest Christian community, something Chronicles had foreseen even before the invasion of Iraq, has continued apace since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s relatively tolerant secular regime, with the murder of a Catholic priest and three deacons on June 3 the latest depressing chapter in the story of a militant Islam unleashed by the war.

Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly of the Chaldean Catholic Church condemned the latest murders as

a most horrible act against God, against humanity, against their own brothers who are peace loving citizens, as well as men of religion who always offered their prayers to God the Almighty for security and stability in Iraq.

According to media reports, a car carrying the men, as well as the wife of one of the deacons, was stopped by Muslim gunmen on the streets of Mosul.  The woman was ordered out of the car, then the gunmen shot the priest and his companions repeatedly.  The car was booby-trapped, and the bodies could not be removed until security forces defused the explosives later that evening.  The priest had just left the church where he had celebrated Sunday Mass.

The Chaldean Church’s bishops issued a statement to ask

the Lord to grant mercy to the souls of these martyrs, and extend their deepest sympathies to the families of the deceased . . . that they may be given the necessary strength to face such an arduous situation.

The bishops asked “Iraqi leaders and international organizations to intervene to put a concrete end to these criminal acts.”

This was not the first appeal for aid by Christian leaders.  In May, Patriarch Mar Dinka IV of the Assyrian Church of the East and Patriarch Emmanuel issued a joint statement, a plea for help in which they stated that Christians have faced “blackmail, kidnapping and displacement.”

Pope Benedict XVI condemned the killings as well—and brought up the plight of Iraq’s Christians at a private Vatican meeting with President George W. Bush.  Nevertheless, the White House’s previous silence and inaction indicates that the pontiff likely experienced the arrogance, willful ignorance, and empty promises we have grown used to from “The Decider.”

Meanwhile, the reality-based community can treat itself to a host of news reports on the activities of Iraq’s jihadis in May and June.  For example, a Christian couple working at the U.S. embassy was reported kidnapped: Both the husband and the wife were eventually murdered.  A Sunni group calling itself the Islamic State in Iraq claimed credit for the martyrdoms: “God’s ruling has been implemented against two of the most prominent agents and spies of the worshippers of the cross . . . The swords of the security personnel of the Islamic State in Iraq” are, according to the statement, “slitting the throats of crusaders and their aides and lackeys.”

Both Shiite and Sunni militants, usually busy fighting each other, have joined in the jihad against Iraq’s Christians.  At the end of May, the Mahdi Army, a Shiite group affiliated with Muqtada al-Sadr, judged by some observers as a major (perhaps the major) threat to security and stability in occupied Iraq, circulated a letter calling for Christian women to wear the Islamic veil.  According to Iraqi Christians, several women have been beheaded for refusing to follow Muslim customs.

Muslim militants have demanded that the remaining Christians (many had already fled) in the Al-Durah area of Baghdad pay jizya, a head tax on non-Muslims living under Islamic rule, or submit to conversion.  Other press accounts have Muslims confiscating fleeing Christians’ property and imposing an “exit tax” as well.  Many Christians had already signed over property to the enterprising jihadis as ransom for kidnapped relatives.

St. George’s Assyrian Church in the Baghdad neighborhood of Dora was burned to the ground in May.  (By one count, 27 churches have been destroyed since 2003.)  Christians had earlier been given an ultimatum to convert or pay the jizya.  Those wishing to remain would be allowed to stay—if they pledged a daughter or sister in marriage to a Muslim.

This is only a small sampling of the stories coming out of Iraq—stories that include a report of a Christian boy being crucified, of Christians being beheaded, raped, and robbed.

Iraq’s frustrated Christian leaders have lashed out at the United States, which has lent little in the way of aid to the beleaguered Christians.  In early June, Patriarch Emmanuel condemned the occupation of a Chaldean Catholic theological institute, Babel College, by U.S. forces.  Babel College was occupied without the consent of church leaders, and the Chaldeans say the takeover is fueling further reprisals against Christians.  (Christians have long been identified with the West, especially the United States, by the jihadis, whether they have aided the Americans or not.)  Their anger is all the more bitter since some had expected aid from an historically Christian superpower.  One account quotes Patriarch Emmanuel as saying that U.S. and Iraqi officials “have insulted and humiliated our temples and churches.”

Journalist Felicity Arbuthnot has sympathetically chronicled the plight of Iraq’s minorities (including Christians, Zoroastrians, Mandeans, and Yazidis) and the destruction of the country’s historic sites in the turmoil that is post-Saddam Iraq.  In a recent article, she raised a question all decent Americans should ask ourselves:

Nearly every report on [U.S.] soldiers or their families refers to their unwavering faith in God sustaining them in their missions and if they become casualties, belief they are now with their Maker.  Are Iraqi Christians, established in Iraq since the time of Christ, children of a lesser God?

Arbuthnot condemns the senseless destruction the invasion brought on this, “the cradle of civilization,” and its priceless historic sites.  Ur was the birthplace of the patriarch Abraham: Now some of Abraham’s children, who were “safe under a ‘tyrant,’” appear “doomed” under a “crusading army of God.”

Iraq’s Christian community has indeed declined rapidly since the invasion of March 2003.  Most reports estimate the pre-war Christian population of Iraq at 800,000 to over a million; since then, the number has dropped by at least one half, and perhaps two thirds, as Christians have fled to Jordan, Syria, and Turkey.  Some Christians, hoping to remain in the land of their ancestors, are now calling for the creation of an autonomous Christian region within Iraq on the plains of Nineveh, described by Christian journalist Sandro Magister as “the historical cradle of Christianity in Iraq,” an area where village churches still use Aramaic, the language of Christ, in their liturgy.  Many had already moved to the northern part of the country controlled by the Kurds—but faced persecution there, as well.

Observers have begun to use the term genocide to describe what is happening to non-Muslims in Iraq.  Will Christians somehow be able to sustain themselves there?  One journalist lamented

the potentially irreversible loss of the indigenous Christian community in Iraq.  Unless something is done and quickly, the lasting legacy of this war will be the genocide of the Christians and other minorities of Iraq.

The loss would be a huge one, not only for Christendom, but for Iraq, since Christians made up a significant portion of the country’s professional class of doctors, teachers, and engineers.  How could there ever be a “free and democratic Iraq” without them?

What were they thinking?  I am referring not only to the neocons, who did so much to bring on this war, but the pro-war evangelical Christians in America who have enthusiastically backed this disaster and substantially continue to do so, long after the mythical weapons of mass destruction, along with the fabricated “evidence” allegedly proving Saddam was Osama bin Laden’s ally, have been dropped from public statements by the likes of Secretary of State Rice and Vice President Cheney.  If confronted with Arbuthnot’s question, what would they say?  That the Christians of Iraq are not really Christians?  That they didn’t count in the larger calculus of their Praise Leader President’s war “to end tyranny in the world”?

Perhaps they are the ones who are not wholly Christian, but members of a messianic cult whose temple is Wal-Mart, their patriotic shopping trips accompanied by a sound track of “Christian rock.”  That they are ignorant is no excuse: Shouldn’t anyone who is willing to send others to die, spreading “democracy” at the tip of a sword, be minimally acquainted with public and international affairs?  Small wonder that the Founding Fathers saw mass democracy as a danger to liberty.