Mayhem in Baghdad; No Change in U.S. Policies

Baghdad residents were still trying to make sense out of an orgy of violence at the city’s Syriac Catholic cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation, when just 48 hours later mortar attacks and bombings again rocked the nation’s capital. In the church attack on Oct. 31, 78 were wounded and 58 killed, including two priests and women and children A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Defense said that 18 explosions were reported during a 45-minute period on the night of Nov. 2, mostly in Baghdad’s Shiite neighborhoods. The latest reports count at least 64 dead and 360 wounded. The spokesperson said, “There was a chaotic period last night, but the situation calmed down by midnight and the Iraqi Security Forces have control of the city. Reports of police abandoning their posts or widespread chaos are false.”

The bloody resurrection of violence in Baghdad has so far not been enough to move the U.S. Operation New Dawn force in Iraq to consider emergency adjustments to its current deployment or its long-term schedule for withdrawal from Iraq. “The attack on the church was tragic, and our deepest sympathies are with those who lost loved ones,” the defense spokesperson said. But “in accordance with the Security Framework Agreement we signed with Iraq, we will withdraw all of our troops by the end of 2011 in a responsible manner. That is a legally binding agreement between our governments.”

He added, “Despite recent attacks, the important thing to recognize is that [overall violence has] been on a downward trend, and we have yet to see sectarian retribution. Violent extremists are still intent on conducting high-profile attacks but do not have a strategic impact.

“The U.S. has drawn down, but we have not disengaged,” he added. “Iraq is an important strategic partner, and we are committed to a long-term partnership. The [Iraqi Security Force] is very capable, and we still have a strong security presence to support them.”

Responding to the violence, the Syriac Catholic patriarch, Ignace Joseph III Younan, said that the security being provided at Christian places of worship by Iraqi forces is “far less than what we have hoped for and requested.” He added, “Christians are slaughtered in Iraq, in their homes and churches, and the so-called ‘free’ world is watching in complete indifference, interested only in responding in a way that is politically correct and economically opportune, but in reality is hypocritical.”

Asked if the upsurge in violence might encourage the State Department to accelerate its efforts to resettle Iraqi Christians, thousands of whom wait in Amman, Jordan, for an opportunity to be relocated to the United States and Europe, Leslie Phillips, a spokesperson for the State Department said, “I’m not aware of any plans to change the number of refugees brought to the United States from Iraq.” She added, “Obviously we continue to be concerned about religious freedom in Iraq and the protection of all its minorities.”

In each of the last two years a little more than 18,000 Iraqis have been accepted for resettlement in the United States. Since 2007 the State Department has admitted altogether only 53,689 Iraqis into the United States. Of that four-year total only 22,729 Christians of all denominations have cleared State Department and Homeland Security Department hurdles and been admitted to the United States. That total includes only 171 listed as Chaldean Catholics and 6,017 as Catholic; 1,579 were described as Orthodox.

In a statement on Nov. 2, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that while the U.S. bishops welcomed the end of U.S. military operations in Iraq, “we share the Iraqi bishops’ concern that the United States failed to help Iraqis in finding the political will and concrete ways needed to protect the lives of all citizens, especially Christians and other vulnerable minorities, and to ensure that refugees and displaced persons are able to return to their homes safely. Having invaded Iraq, the U.S. government has a moral obligation not to abandon those Iraqis who cannot defend themselves.”

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