Iraq: Christians Targeted in Baghdad

Thursday, June 28, 2007

ISTANBUL, June 27 (Compass Direct News) -- For one man, the release of eight kidnapped Christians from his hometown of Qaraqosh on Friday (June 22) was bittersweet.

Ten days prior, his own brother-in-law, Fouad Salim, had not been so fortunate when militants killed him in Baghdad as he left his work at a police station in Razaliyah.

“It was because of his religion,” said the Syrian Catholic, who asked to remain anonymous. “They asked him to be Islamicized [convert to Islam], and when he refused they killed him.”

Salim, 32, left behind a wife and two children, a 5-year-old son and a 2-year-old daughter.

Like many of the 50,000 Iraqis displaced by violence each month, according to the United Nations, they have fled to Iraq’s relatively stable northern region. There they live with relatives in the village of Qaraqosh, 30 kilometers (19 miles) from Mosul.

But recent kidnappings and murders of Christians in and around Mosul, as well as the skyrocketing cost of living, make the north less than appealing for many. Most difficult are the painful memories that each migrant from the south carries with them.

“I’m not gong to stay in Iraq, because Iraq is the land of death,” Salim’s wife, still in shock, told her relatives when she arrived in Qaraqosh.

Salim’s family believes he was murdered by Shiite militants within the police force. Before his death, he had confided to his family that he was receiving anonymous threats that he would be killed if he refused to convert.

He suspected the threats came from radical colleagues.

Fleeing Bombs

Salim’s story is one of a growing number of incidents of persecution against Christians reported from Baghdad in recent months.

In a Baghdad neighborhood that once held 50 Christian families, the remaining two were forced to flee after their car was bombed over two weeks ago.

A middle-aged Chaldean couple from Hai Al-Jamiyah district told Compass that they were forced to leave home with only the clothes on their backs when militants planted a sound bomb beside their car. Area residents spoke of how Christians should leave the area, said the couple, whose own children and grandson left two months prior.

The husband and wife said that even though local militias had not demanded that they pay jizya, an Islamic tax exacted from non-Muslims under Muslim rule, they felt their lives were threatened all the same. After their car was bombed, they said that armed gunmen had forced them to leave home without any of their possessions.

Christian Iraqi website reported on June 17 that militants in Baghdad’s Amariyah district had set off a bomb in the garden of a Christian home, forcing the family to leave.

On June 20, the website said that another four families from Sayedia were forced to flee their homes after militants threatened them with consequences similar to those faced by Christians in Baghdad’s Dora district.

A Sunni stronghold and fault-line between Sunni and Shiite militias, Dora has been almost emptied of its Christian population. In late March and early April, stories began to trickle out of the neighborhood that local Islamist groups were demanding that they convert to Islam or pay jizya. The only alternative was to leave.

“There’s about 30 percent of the city that needs work, like here in Dora and the surrounding areas,” U.S. Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno told The Associated Press on June 16 from Dora’s market. U.S. forces have worked to increase their presence in the district as part of campaign to regain control of the capital.

Chaldean Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly strongly condemned U.S. forces in May after they had occupied the church’s seminary and college in Dora last April, though some church leaders felt troop presence would keep away looters. The buildings had stood empty since staff relocated classes to the northern village of Ankawa for security reasons.

Iraq’s increasing violence has precipitated a mass exodus, with some 2.2 million Iraqis now residing outside the country and another 2 million internally displaced, according to a June 5 U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) briefing in Geneva.

UNHCR figures from Syria and Jordan last year showed that an exceptionally high percentage of refugees are Christians, though the group only constitutes 3 percent of the country’s population.

“Particularly in Iraq … Christian families and communities are feeling increasing pressure from insecurity, aggression and a sense of abandonment,” Pope Benedict XVI said on Thursday (June 21), a day after calling on Christians to offer hospitality to refugees.

“The number of the refugees is being increased because of the threats and the atrocities,” Salim’s brother-in-law told Compass from Qaraqosh. “We need the international conscience to pay attention to the Christians in Iraq.”

Copyright © 2007 Compass Direct