(CNSNews.com) – Christian persecution is worse now in Iraq than it was before the United States military and its allies deposed dictator Saddam Hussein, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) said in opening remarks at a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs' Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations on Tuesday.
“As we witness the black flag of al-Qaeda again fly over cities such as Fallujah, which we had won at the cost of so much American blood, we wonder how it is that for Christians in Iraq, life appears to be worse now than it was under the vicious dictator Saddam Hussein,” Smith said.
Hussein was captured in 2003 then tried by the interim government and found guilty of “crimes against humanity.” He was executed by hanging in 2006.
Smith began his remarks by noting that the focus of the hearing on Christians does not diminish the fact that people of other faiths are persecuted around the world.
“Christians, however, remain the most persecuted religious group the world over, and thus deserve the special attention that today's hearing will give them,” Smith said. “As one of today's witnesses, the distinguished journalist John Allen has written: "Christians today indisputably are the most persecuted religious body on the planet, and too often their martyrs suffer in silence."
“Researchers from the Pew Center have documented incidents of harassment of religious groups worldwide - a term defined as including ‘physical assaults; arrests and detentions; desecration of holy sites; and discrimination against religious groups in employment, education and housing’ - and has concluded that Christians are the single most harassed group today.”
“In the year 2012, Pew reports, Christians were harassed in 110 countries around the world,” Smith said.
One of the witnesses at the hearing was Archbishop Francis Chullikat, who served as the papal nuncio to Iraq. Chullikat said the violence children in particular have seen – including witnessing the killings of Christians -- will “leave a lasting scare” on that generation.
Chullikat, according to Smith, had said “flagrant and widespread persecution of Christians rages even as we meet.”
Smith said the population of Christians has decreased in Iraq from 1.4 million in 1987 prior to the first Gulf War, to an estimated 150,000 today.
“Much of this exodus has occurred during a time in which our country invested heavily in blood and treasure in seeking to help Iraqis build a democracy,” Smith said. “As we witness the black flag of al-Qaeda again fly over cities such as Fallujah, which we had won at the cost of so much American blood, we wonder how it is that for Christians in Iraq, life appears to be worse now than it was under the vicious dictator Saddam Hussein.”