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Persecution of Christians in Iraq in the light of History
They are Christian Iraqis who love their country. As Christians, they are not about to give up hope and leave, say the Christian leadership. They have been confident that the political unrest sweeping the rest of the Middle East will not affect Iraq, because those countries are dictatorships while Iraq is a constitutional government.
Even when they were under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, in an overwhelmingly Muslim Iraq, some Christians rose to the top. Most noteworthy was Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz. The Baathist regime at that time kept a lid on anti-Christian violence.
However, many Iraqi Christians in recent years have been fleeing. In July 2010, Iraqi Christian leaders visited the U.S. government in Washington, D.C. to beg for help. Putting aside denominational differences, they'd formed a council of churches to unite against persecution and sent representatives to Capital Hill to ask for protection. By then, only 400,000 remained of the 1.4 millions Christians there before the war. Attacks on Christians there are not even prosecuted.
- Massive flight of Iraqi Christians can’t dim churches’ witness, leaders say
"It is more difficult for all the people of Iraq, but especially for Christians," said Archbishop Sliwa, Armenian Church of Iraq. "Those remaining are not feeling any security, especially politically, and have no hope for their children's futures."
The hope is that they will return once better safety is provided. For now, the urgent concern is protection for those Christians still in Iraq. The constitution's guaranteed rights for all Iraqis must be upheld by a strengthened Iraqi government.
Church leaders do point out that it is not just the Christians who are being targeted and suffering. Two days after terrorists attacked a church in Baghdad, about 90 people were killed in a rash of bomb explosions in mainly Shia neighbourhoods.
- BBC News - Christian areas targeted in deadly Baghdad attacks
A series of bombings and mortar attacks targeting Christian areas killed at least five people and injured dozens in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.
Three months after this visit to Washington, D.C. is when Al-Qaida affiliated terrorists attacked the church in Baghdad. They massacred over 50 worshippers at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church. This was the worst attack since the war began, triggering also a series of other attacks on Christians.
- Nov 10 - six killed in thirteen bombings on Baghdad homes
- Nov 16 - two shot dead by gunmen in N. Iraq
- Nov 17 - father and 6-year-old daughter killed by a bomb in Mosul
- Nov 22 - two brothers shot dead and elderly woman strangled
- Dec 5 - elderly couple shot dead in Baghdad
- Dec 31 - bomb left on doorstep of elderly couple's home detonates
- Jan 15 - doctor shot point blank in head in Mosul hospital
All these victims were Christians attacked by non-Christians.
A congressional hearing was held on January 20, 2011 in Washington to look for a way to protect Iraqi Christians. See this article to see what USCIRF has recommended. Inaction will result in the annihilation of Iraq's Christians.
A bit of history
Iraqi church and political leaders have urged the Christian communities to stay in the country where they have been based for more than 2,000 years. Christians there date back to the apostle Thomas. Iraq's Assyrian communities are some of the oldest in the world, and the heritage of Assyrian Christians date back to the adoption of Christianity in the first century AD.
- BBC News - Iraqi Christians' long history
Iraq's many Christian communities have long formed a small, but important part of the country's religious mosaic.
Christians live not only in Baghdad, but are also in the northern cities of Kirkuk, Irbil and Mosul. Mosul was once along a major Mesopotamian trading route known as Nineveh in the Bible. Most Iraqi Christians are Chaldeans, who are Eastern-rite Catholics with autonomy from Rome but who recognise the Pope's authority. Being an ancient people, some Chaldeans still speak Aramaic, likely the language of Jesus in the four gospels of the Bible.
However, the Islamic method of convert or be killed began for this Christian community in the seventh century. In more recent history, 1933, the massacre of 3000 Christians in Simmele, Northern Iraq, was was the first atrocity committed by a new Iraqi state after gaining independence from Britain the year before.
As recent as 2008, hundreds of thousands of Assyrian Christians fled the country from Nineveh under murderous threats from Islamic militants that had escalated.
- Islamists drive Christians out of Nineveh
USCIRF labeled Iraq "among the most dangerous places on earth." The situation is "particularly dire" for ChaldoAssyrian Christians, a minority people.
Today, with Catholic representatives in the city saying the community is now frightened and confused, a return of Christian persecution in this region may be another part of its long history come back to haunt once again.
Muslims Terrorizing Christian Girls in Iraq
- BBC News - Lives of fear for Iraqi Christians
A week after the Baghdad church attack, the BBC's Jim Muir finds Christians torn between staying in Iraq and living in fear, and moving to sanctuary in the West.
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© 2011 Deidre Shelden