The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, has issued an extraordinarily harsh condemnation of Blair and Bush's war policy in Iraq for bringing about a catastrophe for Christians living in the Middle East.

Writing from Bethlehem, where the number of Christians has plummeted to a quarter of what they were, he condemns the Government for failing to put in place a strategy to help Christians.

"The results are now painfully adding to what was already a difficult situation for Christian communities across the region," he says. "The first Christian believers were Middle Easterners. It’s a very sobering thought that we might live to see the last native Christian believers in the region." In some Middle Eastern countries where Muslim-Christian relations have always been good, he says that extremist attacks on Christians are becoming "notably more frequent."

In an extraordinary attack, Dr Williams accuses Tony Blair and the US of endangering the lives and futures of many thousands of Christians in the Middle East, who are regarded by their countrymen as supporters of the "crusading West."

He has been backed by bishops across the Church of England, who say that Christians in the Middle East are now paying the price for the "chaos" in Iraq after the British Government failed to heed their warnings about the consequences of military action.

The plight of Middle Eastern Christians has been going on for a long time. But the Iraq war has greatly accelerated it.

The Christian villages and towns of the Middle East have been hemorrhaging people for more than a century, as those who believed in Christ have sought better lives in Europe, the Americas and the South Pacific.

But the process of depopulation has accelerated sharply in the past few years.

The crisis for the world's oldest Christian communities may be worse today in Iraq, where the populace is fleeing Islamic fundamentalists who have been blowing up churches. But it has also been a grave problem in Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. Official numbers are hard to come by, but those who have left number in the hundreds of thousands.

It is especially poignant to lose the Christian community of Bethlehem, whose economy has always been heavily dependent on tourism.

Just a few years ago, Pope John Paul II held a Christmas Eve mass at the Church, and tens of thousands of Christian pilgrims thronged the streets of Bethlehem.

However few pilgrims have been visiting Bethlehem in recent years. Five years of Palestinian violence, known as the second intifada, have destroyed Bethlehem's economy, which is heavily based on tourism. Bethlehem's mayor, Dr. Victor Batarseh, says the violence is forcing people to leave their city, and most affected are Bethlehem's Christians.

"Due to the stress, either physical or psychological, and the bad economic situation, many people are emigrating, either Christians or Muslims, but it is more apparent among Christians, because they already are a minority, and it is because it is easier for a Christian family to emigrate, because they have family abroad already, in the U.S. in South or Central America, or Australia, or Canada," said Dr. Batarseh. "That is why Christian emigration is more apparent. We need this city to remain as a model of co-existence between the two religions. The more emigration we get this model will dissolve."

And Bush says nothing about any of this. He takes no notice of the irony of America's most religiously guided president bringing about the destruction of the oldest Christian communities in the world.

Instead, all we hear about is the threat to Christmas. It's always the fucking War on Christmas -- never the War on Christians in the Middle East. The assholes who complain about "Happy Holidays" turn a blind eye to rape and murder of Middle Eastern Christians.

In Iraq, the Christian Assyrian community is on the run.

In August, 13 Assyrian women in Baghdad were kidnapped and murdered. In October, a 14-year-old boy in Albasra was crucified and stabbed in the stomach in mockery of the death of Christ. Another 14-year-old boy in Baquba was decapitated in his workplace by veiled Muslims chanting "Allahu, Akbar! Allahu, Akbar!" Also that month, a priest was kidnapped, tortured and beheaded, supposedly over the Pope's comments critical of Islam.

Indeed, in the wake of Benedict XVI's September speech, extremists threatened to kill all Christians in Iraq unless the Pope apologized.

Except for a few Christian relief agencies and the Assyrians' own news service, the bloodletting has been virtually unreported -- lost in the sea of carnage that is today's Iraq.

And what has Bush wrought for Iraqi Christians at Christmas?

Due to "the grave security situation in the country," Iraq's Chaldean patriarch Emmanuel Delly has "appealed on safety grounds to Christians ... to refrain from any public celebrations for Christmas."

Talk about your War on Christmas!

Originally posted to quaoar on Sat Dec 23, 2006 at 08:48 AM PST.

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