The chairman of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops' (USCCB) Committee on International Policy has asked Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to consider measures that would help improve the deteriorating situation for Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq. In a letter to Secretary Rice, Bishop Thomas G Wenski of Orlando, Florida, notes that Christians in Iraq continue to decline from a pre-war population of over 1.2 million to a current estimate of 600,000, and according to the UN High Commission for Refugees, over 40 percent of Iraqi refugees are Christian even though they represent only about four percent of Iraq's total population. "The growing and deliberate targeting of Christians is an ominous sign of the breakdown in Iraqi society of civil order and inter-religious respect and represents a grave violation of human rights and religious liberty," Bishop Wenski wrote, pointing to the recent beheading of a Syriac Orthodox priest in Mosul, the crucifixion of a Christian teenager in Albasra, the kidnapping for ransom of four priests and the rape of Christian women and teenage girls as indicators that the situation has reached a crisis point. "The vulnerability of Christians and other religious minorities is dramatic evidence of the serious and growing security challenges facing the entire nation of Iraq," Bishop Wenski said. In order to improve the particular security situation of Christians and other minorities in Iraq, he urged the U.S. government to consider the creation of a new "Administrative Region" in the Nineveh Plain Area that would be directly related to the central government in Baghdad. Since the Kurds play a key role in stabilizing Iraq, Bishop Wenski urged the US government to work with Kurdish authorities to ensure the safety of Christians in the Plain of Nineveh and to provide protection and assistance for religious minorities in areas directly under Kurdish control. An urgent review of economic reconstruction aid programs is also needed, he said, to ensure that aid is distributed fairly so that all elements of Iraqi society are able to rebuild their communities. Finally, Bishop Wenski called for the US government to adopt a more generous refugee and asylum policy, including the possible resettlement of at-risk cases to the United States. Source: USCCP
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