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Chicago Tue Nov 09 2010
More than 1,500 members* of Chicago's Assyrian community filled the plaza in front of the Thompson State of Illinois Building on Monday, Nov. 8, to protest the killing of 58 Christians in Baghdad a week earlier, during a siege of a church by Islamist militants and a subsequent storming of the church by Iraqi commandos. The march was dubbed the "Black March" because of the decision by the protestors to wear black. Pre-made and hand-lettered signs carried slogans such as "Stop the Killing of Christians" and "Cheap Oil - Precious Lives."
Somewhat lost in the horrific sectarian Sunni-Shiite killing that has plagued Iraq since the United States toppled its government in 2003 is the ongoing violence against Iraq's minority Christian community, one of the oldest in the world. Christians numbered approximately 800,000 before the war, and while prohibited from building new churches, enjoyed relative safety under Saddam Hussein. However, while the new Iraqi constitution guarantees religious freedom, the ancient Christian community has faced relentless attacks by extremists since the invasion, and only half may now remain due to persecution and flight.
The Jewish population of Iraq, once numbering as many as 120,000, largely fled between 1948 and 1951, and fewer than a dozen Jews reportedly remain in Baghdad.
Barack Obama as a candidate in 2008 pressed the Bush administration on its failure to protect the Iraq Christian community but now finds his administration faulted for progress on this issue. Earlier this year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 944 with overwhelming bipartisan support, expressing solidarity with religious minorities in Iraq.
EDITOR's UPDATE: *Numbers from various news sources put the turnout near 1,500. Article originally stated "hundreds." As disclosure, my sister Waleeta was a primary organizer of the march and serves as Treasurer of the Assyrian-American National Coalition. Senator-Elect Mark Kirk released a statement in support of the marchers, as a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, co-signed by Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, see below. --Ramsin