Christians in Iraq

Wednesday's Channel Four News report on the plight of Iraq's Christians made for sad viewing. This is a community that has existed in the region for 2,000 years. Some of them still speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus. Yet their very future is under threat.

Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq the size of its Christian community has literally halved. While unfavorable demographics and immigration are contributing factors, thousands more have been forced to seek refuge abroad as sectarian religious hatred has made their lives unbearable.

The primary responsibility for this exodus lies with Al Qaeda and their ilk. It is they who are planting the bombs in Churches; it is they who are murdering priests and worshippers; and it is they who seek to sow the seeds of religious hatred. Their intention is clear. They intend to attack Christians 'wherever they can be reached' and fully intend to 'open upon them the doors of destruction and rivers of blood."

It is too simplistic to describe what is taking place as a Muslim-Christian conflict or a 'clash of civilizations'. The vast majority of those fleeing Iraq seek refuge in Muslim majority countries elsewhere in the Middle East. And there is a long history of religious coexistence and tolerance in the region.

But it undeniably the case that the invasion of Iraq has stoked the flames of religious hatred and provided a fertile breeding ground for those hate filled agendas. As William Dalrymple notes, it is ironic that a war championed by self avowed Christians in Bush and Blair, and described as a 'crusade' by one of them, has 'created the environment that led to the destruction of Christianity in one of its ancient heartlands – something Arab, Mongol and Ottoman conquests all failed to pull off'.