Iraqi Christians Threatened by Interim Constitution, says Group

Monday, March 8, 2004

Shiite Muslims postpone signature

By: Stefan J. Bos
Special Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

BAGHDAD, IRAQ (ANS) -- A leading human rights group investigating the plight of persecuted Christians in Islamic nations warned Friday, March 5, that Iraq's interim constitution will not end Muslim violence and discrimination experienced by Iraq's Christian minority.

Barnabas Fund made the comments as news emerged that Friday's signing ceremony was postponed after five Shiite members of the Governing Council objected to two clauses of the document.

One of the clauses deals with the make-up of the five-member presidency that would assume power from the United States-led coalition at the end of June. The Shiite council members reportedly want three of those seats to reflect the community's majority in Iraq's population.

A spokesman for one of the members told the Voice of America (VOA) they also object to a clause dealing with the vote for a future permanent constitution. The clause says that document could be vetoed by three of Iraq's 18 provinces and Shiite members fear that would give too much power to the three Kurdish regions in the north.


The stand-off came amid concern that Shiite Muslims want to increase their influence at the expense of Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq, which critics say is already reflected in the interim constitution. While Barnabas Fund is pleased that Islam is mentioned as "a source" as opposed to "the source" of law in the document, it warns that "the following qualifying paragraph states that no law is to be passed which goes against the tenets" of Islam.

"Such tenets are codified in the shari' a, which carries inbuilt discrimination against women and non-Muslims," said Barnabas Fund in a statement seen by ASSIST News Service (ANS). It comes as a major set back for Iraq's Christian minority as "the greatest problem facing Christians at the moment is violence and the threat of violence," Barnabas Fund said.

February 3 a Christian residence in the Shiite stronghold of Basra was hit by a grenade. "Before they were just attacking us in the street, now we are not safe in our own homes," the head of the household was quoted as saying by Barnabas Fund. On 11 February gunmen fired on an office of the Assyrian Democratic Movement in Mosul, injuring one security guard. Most Iraqi Christians are ethnic Assyrians, the organization claimed.


The party provides the only Christian representative on the Governing Council, Younadam Kana. Missionary workers have also complained about violent attacks, ASSIST News Service learned. Barnabas Fund recalled how American Pastor John Kelly was killed February 14 when gunmen from a passing car attacked the taxi he was traveling in.

"They were returning from a trip to see the ruins of Babylon, when a car started to overtake their taxi on the inside. The four occupants armed with Kalashnikovs then suddenly opened fire," the well informed Barnabas Fund said. In addition five Christian roadside vendors in Basra were shot dead on February 15 by gunmen with by with Kalashnikovs.

"The gunmen pulled up in police vehicles and were wearing police uniforms suggesting a disturbing connection between hardliners who want to introduce shari'a and the coalition supervised police," Barnabas Fund said. In Baghdad, ANS learned that several Christian shop owners have been attacked as well, while some of them carry guns to protect themselves.


The violence has been linked to Muslim extremists and supporters of the previous regime of Saddam Hussein. William Warda, head of the "Many Christian Churches have received anonymous threatening letters," the Assyrian Democratic Movement's Department of Culture and Information reportedly said. Barnabas Fund quoted Bishop al-Qas of Amadiyah, in the Kurdish region, as saying that posters had been put up urging Christians to convert to Islam or leave the country.

ANS has also established that students at several Christian schools in the country received death threats.

"Whole denominations have taken the decision not to hold night time services anymore, but only daytime ones. One church in Baghdad has stopped having services altogether (and) Muslim extremists are calling Iraqi Christians
"crusaders" or a "fifth column for the Christian Wes and the Americans," Barnabas Fund said.


However some Shiite leaders, including Baghdad representative Sheikh Abd al-Jabbar Menhal, and Muslim intellectuals have reportedly condemned the attacks saying that "Islam respects all sacred places" including churches. Barnabas Fund has urged Christians around the world to pray "that God will give the Administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority, Paul Bremer, "great wisdom" as he must put his signature to the interim constitution.

Barnabas Fund also asked to "Pray that Iraqi Christians will have peace, faith, and hope, and that the Lord's hand of protection will be over them," amid ongoing bloodshed and suicide attacks.