Iraq: Baghdad Christians Flee Forced Conversion

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Armed Islamic extremists terrorize the faithful in Dora district.

ERBIL, Iraq, April 18 (Compass Direct News) -- Iraqi Christians fled their homes over the weekend after armed Sunni extremists threatened to kill them if they did not convert to Islam within 24 hours, Christian sources said.

Six Christian families from the Mualimien neighborhood of Baghdad’s Dora district have relocated to a church elsewhere in the city, said a Baghdad source who requested that the families’ location and identity remain anonymous.

Armed Sunnis told the families on Saturday (April 14) that an amir (independent Muslim prince or ruler) had issued a fatwa or judgment based on Islamic law against Dora’s Christians, the source said.

“They called the Christians infidels and told them, ‘If you don’t convert to Islam or leave your homes in 24 hours, we will kill you,’” the source told Compass after speaking with a member of the church helping the displaced Christians.

The source was unable to confirm an April 15 report from the news website Iraq Slogger that militants had printed the fatwa on fliers distributed throughout the neighborhood.

According to, an Arabic-language Christian website that first reported the news on Saturday evening (April 14), the extremists prevented fleeing Christian families from taking any personal belongings with them.

A Baghdad pastor and priest each independently confirmed that Christians had fled the area in response to the fatwa.

“Most of the Christian people have now left Mualimien,” said a pastor, who himself recently moved away from Dora to escape the daily violence. “No one was injured, they just all got out.”

The pastor said that several of the fleeing families relocated to the northern Kurdish region of Iraq. He also confirmed reports that militants had removed the cross from the top of St. John the Baptist Chaldean church in Dora.

Christian Exodus

Located in southern Baghdad, Dora was at one time home to a large Christian community. Church bombings in August, October and November 2004, followed by increasing violence between extremist Muslim groups and Iraqi and U.S. forces, prompted the beginning of a Christian exodus from the neighborhood.

Bombed church in Baghdad

Last fall Iraq’s only Chaldean seminary and college, located in Dora, postponed classes until December after several priests on staff were kidnapped. The institutions eventually relocated to Ainkawa, a Christian village outside of Erbil in Iraq’s Kurdish region.

The Dora neighborhood has now become a haven for Sunni militants who often clash with government and U.S. forces. Sunni residents complain that the predominantly

Shiite Iraqi police force has committed numerous atrocities against them, according to a March 30 report in The Christian Science Monitor.

In recent months U.S. forces have beefed up troops in Dora as a part of President George Bush’s “surge” of U.S. military presence in Iraq. Some order has been restored, with 100 of an estimated 700 shops reopening in the neighborhood market, according to The Christian Science Monitor.

But this past weekend’s threats against Christians have shown that Dora is far from peaceful, a Baghdad pastor commented.

“Speak with the churches around the world and remind the brothers to pray for our churches in Baghdad,” the pastor told Compass. “Pray that the Lord would give us peace and good days to see what God’s will is in this violence.”

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