Initial reports about the August 14 bombings in the northern Iraqi towns of Qataniyah and Adnaniyah indicated that anywhere between 60 (according to the US military) and 500 Iraqis (according to local authorities and health officials) had been killed. Sadly, the largest of these figures is being confirmed as each day passes, meaning over 500 have been killed along with another 1,500 wounded.
This devastating attack has far-reaching implications for minority populations all over Iraq. Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, wrote a somber op-ed in the Washington Post yesterday expressing concern for the safety of “Christians and non-Muslims in Iraq”. Indeed, she goes so far as to say that the very existence of such minority populations is at risk:
“Sixty years ago, Iraq’s flourishing Jewish population, a third of Baghdad, fled in the wake of coordinated bombings and violence against them. Today, a handful of Jews remain…
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice argues that reducing violence will help all Iraqis, but non-Muslims may have been purged from Iraq by the time the dust settles. It could already be too late for the Mandeans, followers of John the Baptist who have roots in ancient Babylon. A spokesman of the sect told the commission that only 5,000 Mandeans remain.”
Upon reading this article I decided to call Suhaib Nashi, General Secretary of the Mandaeans Associations Union, with whom I had advocated on behalf of Iraqi refugees on Capitol Hill this summer. As it turned out, it was Suhaib who quoted the 5,000 estimate, which “is probably an exaggeration, meaning there are at most only 5,000 left”. According to Suhaib, if things continue to deteriorate in Iraq and minorities like the Mandaeans are expelled to various parts of the world, it could spell the end of the Mandaeans.
Religious and ethnic minorities require a cohesive community where they can prosper. As Nina Shea argues, “It is in America’s national and moral interests to help Iraq’s Christians and other non-Muslims. The most vulnerable must be given asylum. We must also help those determined to stay”. The U.S. faces an opportunity to do what is responsible by creating communities for religious minorities here in the United States, by working with other host countries to provide a safe and secure home, and by protecting them in the region as a whole.