Sen. Rob Portman: Obama Must Protect Christians in Iraq

Wednesday, 30 Jul 2014 11:57 AM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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The U.S. government is not doing enough to protect Iraqi Christians and other religious minorities from persecution from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Iraq, Sen. Rob Portman said, and he hopes to "light a fire" under the State Department with a bipartisan resolution he's helping to introduce.

"We are a country founded by people that were fleeing persecution," the Ohio Republican told Fox News' "America's Newsroom" with host Bill Hemmer on Wednesday morning. "We have to tell the Iraqi government they have to do all they possibly can to protect these people."

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Portman said he and Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan plan to introduce their resolution before the Senate during the day on Wednesday. The document will also include the need to coordinate and work with some refugee groups, as well as with the people of Kurdistan.

"There are a lot of Christians," Portman told Hemmer, noting that the Kurds can also be helpful in the matter.

"This is an effort to light a fire under the State Department to get them to do more to protect these religious minorities, including Christians, and to do so urgently before we lose more lives and have this additional purging," Portman said.

The resolution will also urge President Barack Obama to reaffirm America's commitment to religious liberty "by helping to create safe zones for refugees fleeing persecution, ensuring timely processing of visa applications from religious minorities, and working with the Iraqi government to ensure religious minorities are protected," a statement on Portman's website noted.

"The United States must stand up for religious freedom not only at home, but also in regions of the world experiencing turmoil like the Middle East," Portman said in the official statement. "This resolution says that we will not tolerate targeted violence against Christians in Iraq and that those persecuting Christians must be stopped."

Stabenow said she is "horrified by the current situation in Iraq, and I share the deep concerns of many families in Michigan who are frightened for friends and family members."

She called on the Iraqi government to do "everything possible to protect all of its citizens from further violence, particularly those who may be targeted by extremists."

Extremists ruling Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, have been undergoing a violent campaign to purge the city of any religion that does not follow their extreme version of Islam.

They have destroyed the Mosque of the Prophet Younis, also known as Jonah, who in both the Bible and the Quran was swallowed by a whale, and the Mosque of Sheeth, or Seth, said to be the burial site of the third son of Adam and Eve.

And just last week, extremists removed the crosses on the domes and brick walls of the 1,800-year-old Mar Behnam monastery and then stormed it, forcing its monks and priests to flee or die. The move was just days after jihadists announced over loudspeakers that Christians must convert, pay a tax, or die, prompting most of the city's remaining Christians to evacuate.

Portman told Hemmer Wednesday that lawmakers are working on "bad intelligence, frankly, partly because of the way the U.S. left Iraq."

But it is known that ISIS, "this Islamic state terrorist group," has moved into Iraq and is telling Christians and other minority religions that "you either convert to Islam or you face a fine that is so high that many cannot pay it," said Portman. "Or you face execution."

And as Christians run for their lives, Portman said, "we're told they're losing all of their possessions. They're being robbed. They're on foot because they're losing their vehicles and so this is happening right now in Iraq, a country where we invested so much."

The atrocities are occurring, Portman said, in lands where Christians have lived for 2,000 years.

"It is referenced in the Bible not as Mosul, but a place traditionally where there has been a strong Christian tradition," said Portman. "You've seen this with regard to the destruction of the tomb of Jonah as well."

But ISIS has come in and has been "systematically purging the Christian community and other religious minority groups," the Ohio senator said.

Several Christian groups applauded the pending resolution Wednesday, saying it's a step toward protecting the faithful from persecution.

Ohio Christian Alliance President Chris Long lauded the resolution, saying the Christian community in Iraq dates back to the times of the early church.

"Their homes have been marked with an "N" for Nazarene, similar to the markings of the Nazis on Jewish homes with the Star of David.

"They are forced to pay heavy fines, convert to Islam, or face death. Those who are fleeing to safer regions in Kurdistan are being told they can only bring the clothes on their backs; they must leave all possessions behind, and the Islamic State then claims their property and possessions," said Long.

Portman noted in the statement that there are more than 1 million people who are displaced because of the ongoing violence in Iraq, and "reports have surfaced of targeted harassment, persecution, and killings of Iraqi religious minorities by the Islamic State with little to no protection from the Iraqi government and other security forces."

The Portman-Stabenow resolution has 33 co-sponsors, and a similar resolution has already been introduced in the House of Representatives by California Rep. Juan Vargas.


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