BAGHDAD, IRAQ - Iraq's prime minister pledged Saturday to protect and support the Christian minority that has been fleeing the chaos and sectarian violence in the country.
The Christian community here, about 3 percent of the country's 26 million people, is particularly vulnerable, and has little political or military clout to defend itself.
Since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, Iraqi Christians, who are mostly Chaldean Catholics, have been targeted by Islamic extremists who label them "crusaders" loyal to U.S. troops.
Churches, priests and business owned by Christians have been attacked by Islamic militants.
Seeking better and safer life, over 50 percent of Iraq's Christians are thought to have left the country, according to a report issued by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which advises the White House and Congress.
After receiving the Chaldean patriarch of Baghdad, Emmanuel III Delly, Nuri al-Maliki affirmed his government's readiness and determination to defend the small community. He also vowed to stop the outflow of Iraqi Christians, according to a statement released by al-Maliki's office.
Delly, who is the head of Chaldean Church in Iraq and spiritual leader to all Chaldeans, has been outspoken about the need to protect minority Christians from Iraq's spiraling violence.
Earlier this month, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Delly a cardinal, when he named 23 new "princes" of the Roman Catholic Church.