Christians in Iraq have faced continuous attacks since the U.S. invasion. On January 29, three people died and more than twenty were injured when bombers targeted six churches in coordinated attacks in Baghdad and Kirkuk as Sunday evening services ended. In Baghdad, Patriarch Emmanuel III missed the bombings by minutes as he was held up by security checks on his way to St. Mary’s Catholic Church. Another bomb exploded near the Vatican mission in Baghdad. Muslims also attacked dozens of Christian students in Baghdad and in the northern city of Mosul.

Islamic militants have sought to drive out all Christians, mostly Catholic and Orthodox believers, for some time, continuing the exodus of one of the world’s oldest Christian communities that began after the U.S. invasion of Iraq. In 2004, for example, a series of church attacks took place in Mosul and Baghdad, resulting in hundreds of casualties. At the same time, Christians have been targeted for kidnapping, their businesses destroyed, and their women forced to wear the Muslim veil. Many Christian university students, fearing for their lives, have stopped attending classes.

Even though Church leaders had encouraged their flock to stay in Iraq and preserve the ancient community, Latin Rite Archbishop Jean Sleiman told CNN that, as the violence against Christians has mounted, “immigration often seems the only way out of this inferno.” Indeed, the Christian community in Iraq has steadily dwindled, with its numbers shrinking from somewhere near one million to somewhere between 500,000 and 700,000. Ironically, Syria, another state targeted by the Bush administration’s neoconservative war party, has become a refuge for Christians driven from Iraq. Under Saddam Hussein’s secular regime, Christians were relatively safe and free to practice their religion, even occupying posts in the state apparatus. Saddam’s regime responded to the rise of militant Is- lam by simultaneously suppressing radical groups and enforcing Islamization measures to appease the faithful. With the advent of war and the toppling of the Ba’ath regime, however, Islamic forces that the Sunni strongman had held in check were unleashed. A teacher in Kirkuk commented to Reuters that, “Today, I’m afraid to walk the streets because I’m a Christian.”

The latest anti-Christian attacks in Iraq have been linked by news media to a wave of worldwide violence following a Danish newspaper’s publication of satirical cartoon depictions of Muhammad. As Islamic violence mounted around the world, threats to and attacks on Christians in Muslim lands have escalated. Palestinian militants, for instance, are threatening churches in the Israeli-occupied territories. The cartoon related violence has also encouraged militants to redouble their attacks against Iraq’s remaining Christians: Muslim clerics have reportedly issued fatwas to expel Christians from “streets, schools, and institutions.”

Thus, whatever their views of the United States or their relations with the occupation authorities, both Sunni and Shiite Muslims have identified all Christians with the West, the United States, and the occupation. A group calling itself the Islamic Army of Iraq recently issued a statement demanding that “All people from religions other than Islam must stop their religious rituals in churches . . . because of their assault on Islam and Muslims.” In Fallujah, a militant preacher made it clear that the Islamists saw Iraq’s Christians as aliens, proclaiming “there is no difference” between “the sect of infidelity” (Christians) and “a Danish infidel or a French or British one.”

The Christian flight from Iraq seems likely to accelerate as the country careens toward civil war between Sunnis and Shiites. At the same time, the Bush administration, not bound by law or even common sense, has helped bring on, with its insistence on “regime change” in Iraq and democratist utopianism, what sensible Middle East analysts had predicted: Islamic militant groups are winning electoral victories across the region, setting the stage for a kind of “regime change” the White House may not have anticipated. Christianity in the Middle East could well be snuffed out once and for all.

While Iraq’s Christians are murdered, kidnapped, and forced to flee their homes and churches, the Praise Leader in Chief in the White House has ignored them, as have the Bush administration’s ardent dispensationalist supporters, obsessed with their “end-times” theology and ignorant of the history of their own Faith. As the body count rises and the administration reloads for a new war, maybe these followers of the Prince of Peace should pause and ponder a timely question: What would Jesus do?