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IraqSide:Buzz
Link To Report
Religious Freedom Another Casualty in Iraq
Report: Despite Official Policy of Tolerance, Religious Violence Rampant
09/14/2007 5:59 PM ET
Religious freedom has declined in Iraq over the past year, as the sectarian violence has continued to touch adherents of all faiths, according to the State Department's annual International Religious Freedom Report released Friday.

The report's section on Iraq concluded that the past year has seen no significant change in the government's respect for religious choice, which it says has "generally not engaged in the persecution of any religious group" since 2003, though "some government institutions continued their long-standing discriminatory practices against the Baha'i and Wahhabi Sunni Muslims."

The biggest problem for Iraq's faithful, the report concludes, is the heightened sectarianism and rampant violence.

"What we're dealing with in Iraq is really a security situation that makes it difficult for religious practice to occur in a normal way," the State department's ambassador at large for international religious freedom said at a press conference Friday. John Hanford pointed out that Iraq's constitution has specific guarantees for religious freedom, but those freedoms were being hampered by the sectarian violence plaguing the country.

The report found that members of all religions in Iraq are "victims of harassment, intimidation, kidnapping, and killings" and that "frequent sectarian violence included attacks on places of worship."

"Many individuals from various religious groups were targeted because of their religious identity or their secular leanings," the report said.

While the assessment emphasizes the Iraqi leadership's implicit welcome to all faiths, it also highlights some instances of conservative Islam flexing authority in official circumstances.

In the past year, Basrah's education director instituted a policy requiring all females in the schools to cover their heads and all female university students in Mosul, even non-Muslims, were required to wear the hijab, or headscarf.

The Women's Affairs Ministry also reported that some male government officials, police officers, and Muslim clergymen will insist women cover themselves before these men will speak with them.

There were also allegations that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) engaged in discriminatory behavior against religious minorities. The State Departments reports Christians living north of Mosul claimed that the KRG confiscated their property without compensation and began building settlements on their land. Assyrian Christians also alleged that the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP)-dominated judiciary routinely discriminated against non-Muslims and failed to enforce judgments in their favor.

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