Iraqi primier pledges to protect Christain minority

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.

In receiving Chaldean patriarch of Baghdad, Emmanuel III Delly, the head of Chadean Church in Iraq and the world, Nouri al-Maliki affirmed his government's readiness and determination to defend the small community and to stop the outflow of Iraqi Christians, according to a statement by al-Maliki's office.

Delly has been outspoken about the need to protect minority Christians from Iraq's spiraling violence.

Pope Benedict XVI named Delly as one of 23 new cardinals as a prince of the Roman Catholic Church on Oct. 17.

Since 2003 war, Iraqi Christians, mostly Chaldeans were the targeted by Islamic extremists who labeled them "Crusaders" loyal to the U.S. troops they are fighting.

The Christian community here, about 3 percent of the country's 26 million people, is particularly vulnerable. It has little political or military clout to defend itself.

Churches, priests and business owned by Christians have been attacked by Islamic militants.

Seeking better and safer life, about 50 percent of Iraq's Christians may already have left the country, according to a report issued by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.