BEIRUT: Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil expressed solidarity with Iraqi Christians Monday during a visit to the Iraqi Kurdish city of Irbil and the capital Baghdad.
Speaking at a joint news conference with Iraq’s acting Foreign Minister Hussein Shahristani in Baghdad, Bassil said Lebanon and Iraq shared many common features, including a diverse social fabric.
Iraqi Christians, especially in Mosul and other northern parts of the country, fled after being given an ultimatum by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) to either convert to Islam, pay a religious tax or face death.
“Our keenness to preserve Iraq stems from our keenness to preserve ourselves, because we are facing the same threats. The threat to our diversity,” Bassil said.
He warned that the onslaught against Iraq’s Christians was not a recent phenomenon, adding that the community has faced discrimination for over 20 years and has seen their numbers drastically dwindle.
“Christianity is in danger, and the new Iraqi government should secure all the requirements to preserve [Iraq’s] Christians, including security and economic measures,” he said.
Bassil met in Baghdad with Iraq’s new prime minister-designate, Haider al-Abadi.
In Irbil, Bassil paid a visit to the Chaldean Diocese and held a meeting with numerous Christian religious officials. He then visited Iraqi refugees in the diocese.
“Christians today will persist with their faith and resilience,” he said after a meeting at the headquarters of the Assyrian Democratic Movement.
Bassil warned that extremist threat in Iraq posed a danger not just to that country but to all regions and religions of the world.
“Lebanese, Iraqis and Syrians aren’t the only ones threatened; those in Europe are threatened too,” Bassil said. “This is why there should be international protection for Iraqi Christians.”
Last week, the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 2170 in a bid to weaken ISIS and Al-Qaeda’s Syrian wing, the Nusra Front.
“The Lebanese government and people are all involved in supporting Christians,” Bassil said. “Not to welcome you on our land but to help you remain on yours.”
The foreign minister also met with President of Iraqi Kurdistan Masoud Barzani. The two agreed that terrorism was a major threat that needed to be eliminated.
Bassil concluded his trip with a visit to Nechervan Barzani, prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government.