Iraq at Christmas

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter Daly

December 11, 2006


            The quagmire has become a nightmare.

            A little over three years ago I wrote a column opposing U.S. intervention in Iraq. Like many other people, I said that it would become a quagmire. It has.     

            Now it is even worse than a quagmire. It is a continuing nightmare, especially for our troops and Iraq’s Christian minority.

            Iraq is literally a “decimated” country.

            The word decimated comes from the Latin “decem” or ten. Roman legions used to punish there enemies by lining them up and killing every tenth man. Hence, “decimated.

            Iraq has been decimated. One in ten Iraqi’s has been killed, left the country, or been internally displaced.

            On December 11, the Boston Globe reported that 1.5 million had fled the country.        Earlier this year the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health estimated that about 600,000 Iraqis have died since March of 2003 either directly or indirectly as a result of the war.

            NPR reported in October that about 400,000 persons are displaced within Iraq.

            That is a total of about 2.5 million people or 10% of the prewar population of Iraq was about 24.5 million according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

            What to do now? I have no idea. As the Iraq Study Group report recently made clear, there are no good options, only a range of bad options.

            As a priest and a pastor, I have two particular concerns this Christmas.

            First, I am concerned about our troops. Some of them are my parishioners. We should support them in every way possible; materially, spiritually and emotionally.

            They have only done what we have asked them to do. They have done it bravely and, for the most part, humanely.

            We pray that they come home, safely and soon. When they do we should welcome them with joy, honor, respect and gratitude. They should be given health care and education.  

            Whenever I watch the names and faces of the fallen on television, I find myself overcome with sorrow. They are so young. They are our sons and daughters.  

            Second I am concerned for the beleaguered Christians of Iraq. That ancient Christian community is in danger of extinction according the English newspaper The Guardian.

            Before the war, Christians were about 3 to 4% of the population of Iraq. There were an estimated 1.2 to 1.4 million Christians. Most of them were Catholics or Orthodox.

            In August Catholic News Service reported that more than half the Christian population had fled the country.  Most went to Greece, Syria, Turkey and Jordan. There they are unemployed. Most cannot go home again.

            The UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that 44% of all Iraqi refugees are Christians.

            The Christians have suffered greatly in this war. Some of their churches have been bombed. At least two priests have been kidnapped and executed: Fr. Samy Al Raiys, the former head of the Catholic seminary in Iraq and Father Boulos Islander Behnam, a Syrian Orthodox priest. A Christian teenager was crucified in Albasra. A Christian woman in Mosul was beheaded because she did not wear the hijab (head scarf). There have been many other incidents.

            We should pray for Iraqi Christians this Christmas. We should urge our government to take these unfortunate people as refugees. Currently we have a quota of only 500 Iraqi refugees per year. President Bush has the legal authority to raise that number to 20,000 per year according to the Boston Globe.

            Maybe for those few we take as refugees and our returning troops the nightmare will come to an end.