By 31st December, 2011, all US and NATO troops will have completely withdrawn from Iraq. Whilst the US and NATO had wanted to keep thousands of military trainers there, the Iraqi parliament - dominated by pro-Iran Shi'ites - ruled that any remaining military personnel would be subject to Iraqi laws and jurisprudence. Without immunity from prosecution, US and NATO forces would not stay. However, if the propaganda is to be believed, the decimated, imperilled, besieged Christian minority will have nothing to  fear when the last US and NATO forces leave Iraq after Christmas.

PICTURE: © Chad Thomas (iStockphoto.com)

The Superior of the Dominicans in Baghdad, Fr Amir Jaje, described the atmosphere in Baghdad ahead of the US-NATO withdrawal as "tense". "The extremists", he reports, "are taking advantage of tensions to make their voices heard and the faithful are increasingly distressed".

On 12th December, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki met with US President Barak Obama at the White House in Washington. The two men had nothing but praise for how the Iraq adventure has turned out. PM al-Maliki boasted, "We have proven success. Nobody imagined that we would succeed in defeating terrorism and al Qaeda". President Obama likewise effused that Iraq can be "a model for others aspiring to build democracy". The reality, however, is somewhat different.

The Superior of the Dominicans in Baghdad, Fr Amir Jaje, described the atmosphere in Baghdad ahead of the US-NATO withdrawal as "tense". "The extremists", he reports, "are taking advantage of tensions to make their voices heard and the faithful are increasingly distressed". 

The Latin Archbishop of Baghdad, Mgr Jean Benjamin Sleiman, told Aid to the Church in Need that Iraqi Christians are preparing for a "Christmas under siege". 
Traditions will be quietly kept in the privacy of family homes, while  Christmas Masses will only be celebrated during the day for safety  reasons. "It will be a Christmas, between fear and sturdy faith". Christians, he said, have been reduced to dhimmitude: a state of subjugation, without rights. Helpless before endless mafia and militia  attacks, they are forced to pay the jizya (protection money) as mandated in the Qur'an, Sura 9: 29. 

The situation in the Nineveh Plains of Northern Iraq - the ancient  Assyrian homeland - is no better. On 2nd December, following Friday  prayers, thousands of Muslims went on a pogrom through the predominantly 
Assyrian northern town of Zakho. They looted and torched businesses they  deemed 'haram', that is, forbidden in Islam. After torching a Chinese massage centre, the rioters moved on to raze liquor stores, hotels and 
beauty salons - most of which were run by Assyrian Christians, others by  Kurdish Yazidis. According to eyewitnesses, some rioters tried to attack the Christian quarter of the town. Fortunately those guarding the political offices fired over their heads, dispersing the mob. The Kurdistan Islamic Union is believed to have instigated the violence. 

That local Muslims could be so easily incited into such a destructive pogrom is of great concern. Nobody expects things to improve after the US-NATO  forces leave. "It's a big mess," said David Lazar of the American  Mesopotamian Organization. When asked who would be there to ensure the safety of Christians he answered, "Basically, no one".

Archbishop Louis Sako of the Chaldean Catholic Church in the northern provinces of Kirkuk and Sulimaniya has expressed the fear that, if the persecution continues with such intensity, "Iraq could be emptied of 
Christians" completely. The director of the Christian Defense Coalition, Rev Patrick J Mahoney, is likewise concerned, stating that unless the situation is addressed "the public expression of Christianity will be 
exterminated". "America must realise," he adds, "that this horrible extermination of Christians is directly related to our failure in ensuring their safety. It is a tragedy that America's involvement in Iraq did not bring liberation for Christians but brutality, oppression and possible extinction. We cannot abandon them. We must do better."

Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate (her blog can be found here). This prayer bulletin was written for the Australian Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission.