By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
MOSUL, IRAQ (BosNewsLife) -- Christians in the northern Iraqi town of Mosul were risking their lives Sunday, October 19, to worship in churches amid the worst attacks against them in five years.
They gathered as the World Council of Churches (WCC) told BosNewsLife it has appealed to the United Nations and Iraqi government "to quell the violence" in Mosul, where up to 40 Christians were shot dead in recent days, including a 15-year-old boy and a man in a wheelchair.
Iraqi church leaders reportedly also met Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki last week, asking him to send the army to Mosul to help 1,000 police who arrived here to protect Christians. Church leaders said the police presence did little to ease tensions amid reports of ongoing killings in the streets of Mosul near illegal roadblocks, set up by militants with suspected links to the al-Qaeda terror network.
The prime minister has said he was "upset" and promised additional security meassures, but it was unclear Sunday, October 19, when they would be implemented.
At least some 10,000 Christians have fled the town since last week, after militants drove through the streets with loudspeakers demanding that Christians leave Mosul â€œimmediatelyâ€ according to the Christian sources.
In a letter to Iraqi churches, WCC General Secretary Samuel Kobia said his organization was concerned about the situation and plans to organize â€œa solidarity visitâ€ to Iraq, involving ecumenical representatives from several countries who would visit Mosul and Baghdad. The delegation was to meet members of diverse communities and demonstrate solidarity "to those who are under threat".
He suggested that the WCC would use all venues to lobby â€œfor swift action to quell the violence in Iraq and to thwart activities aimed at the expulsion of Christians and other minority populations."
"We have heard that people are being killed, houses bombed, thousands are fleeing their homes, and churches and church properties are being destroyed," Kobia wrote, expressing "anguish and great concern" about the "terrible acts of violence in Mosul during the past week".
We "are urging all our member churches and partners to pray for peace and reconciliation in Iraq," as well as for all of those "who suffer the consequences of violence and for all who are striving to restore trust and goodwill among people and communities," Kobia added.
Since the US-led invasion in 2003, over 200 Christians have been killed in Iraq, dozens of churches bombed and more than half of the Christian population has left the country, according to WCC estimates.
In one of the latest attacks against churches last week, a homemade bomb was placed at the door of the Miskinta Church in the Old City district of Mosul Tuesday, October 14, detonated and caused some damage to the building but no casualties, church officials said.
Security representatives in Mosul confirmed the blast, the first known attack on a Christian site on the cityâ€™s west side since a wave of attacks against Christians began in late September. Most of the violence has been on the east side of the city, Christian advocacy and aid group Open Doors told BosNewsLife.
1,800 FAMILIES FLEE
The Reverend Nadheer Dakko of the St. Georges Chaldean Church in the Ghadeer neighborhood of Baghdad, who is also acting as a liaison for various Christian groups, told reporters he had compiled a list of some 1,800 families who had left Mosul since late September.
He said 10 families had come from Mosul to his church seeking food, supplies and shelter. However Shukria Youssef, a member of the St. Georges congregation whose sister is a nun at an orphanage in Mosul, said in a statement that many of the Christians remaining in the city were destitute and could not afford to leave.
Rights groups have warned that Islamic extremists are attempting to "eradicate" Mosul and surrounding areas of its Christian population. However, WCC General Secretary Kobia encouraged Iraqi Christians to remain in their country.
"Knowing that your situation is extremely difficult in this moment, we encourage you - in so far as it is possible - to remain in your land and to bear witness there. [â€¦] Your presence in the land is an assurance that Christianity continues to endure; you are a sign of hope to people of faith everywhere," Kobia wrote in his letter to Iraqi churches.
The United States military has tried to help Iraqi security forces in ending the violence, saying Thursday, October 16, it arrested four Al-Qaeda members in Mosul, the group's last urban stronghold in Iraq.
It came a day after the military announced the death of Abu Qaswarah, Al-Qaeda's number two in Iraq.
However pressure has been mounting on American soldiers to leave Iraq, with tens of thousands of Iraqis demonstrating in the streets of Baghdad Saturday, October 18, against a proposed American-Iraqi deal that would allow US troops to stay in the country for three more years. (With reporting from Geneva, Mosul and Baghdad).
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