In Iraq, the persecution of Christians continues, as murders and a mass exodus contradict Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s promise of security for everyone.
The long trip from Mosul to Baghdad traverses a bombed highway along the Tigris River, through a wasteland in central Iraq left behind by five years of war. For Rami Kamil, 43, his wife and their children, the journey was an escape from the growing prospect of being murdered in Mosul.
Kamil and his family realized that they could no longer remain in Mosul when their fourth neighbor, a jeweler and also a Christian, was killed. Unknown assailants shot him in front of his shop, while his son, paralyzed with fear, stared out the window. Now Kamil is sitting in his cousin##s garden in Baghdad, almost too exhausted to complete a sentence and unsure what to do next. “I am a mathematics teacher,” he says. “These days, who needs a Christian who teaches mathematics?”
Since March 2003, Christians in Mosul have had to fear for their lives. Churches have been set on fire, and priests, doctors, engineers and business people have been murdered. In March, aides found the body of Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho on the outskirts of the city. A new series of killings that began in late September has already claimed 18 lives.
To stop the Christians who are fleeing Mosul, their persecutors set up fake checkpoints along the roads leading out of the city. They are often robbed, beaten and even killed. In the Sadik neighborhood, masked men recently stopped a man with his child. When they saw a Christian name on his identification card, they shot the man on the spot. When the boy said the man they had just killed was his father, they shot him as well.
Church members who have not yet fled are finding flyers in their apartments with a “Warning to all Christians.” “If you do not leave,” the flyers read, “you will be slaughtered in three days.”
These are not empty threats. At the beginning of October, 15 masked youths broke into the house of a Christian family living on the east bank of the Tigris in Mosul. First they collected the family’s mobile phone, and then one of the masked intruders held a gun to the head of the eight-year-old son. The attackers shouted that everyone in the family should abandon the house and leave their belongings behind. Then they carried in large amounts of explosives. Although the neighbors had alerted the police, they did not arrive in time to save the building, which exploded in front of their eyes and those of the victimized family.
Empty Promises from Baghdad:
About half of Mosul’s 20,000 Christians have left the city since September, according to official figures released by the Ministry of Displacement and Migration in Baghdad. Since 2003, more than one third of a Christian population has fled the country.
The ongoing persecution of Christians contradicts the promise of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who assured German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a visit to Germany in July that Christians were safe in his country. At the time, his assurances led the German government to temporarily halt the process of accepting a refugee contingent of religious minorities from Iraq.
But even those refugees who have already made it to Germany can face obstacles. In the western city of Essen lives a family named Jalal who left their home on the Tigris in the summer of 2007. Armed men had broken into the Jalals’ house, berated them for being Christians and shot the mother in front of her seven kids.
The surviving members of the family had the good fortune to make it to Damascus, where the German embassy, as an exception, helped them enter Germany. Despite the great solidarity of officials in Essen and the energetic assistance of the Catholic aid organization Caritas, the Jalals were not spared a humiliating examination process.
It is precisely this sort of treatment that the churches want to prevent. They’ve proposed a resettlement solution with a streamlined acceptance procedure ending in a permanent residency permit. But before approving the plan, German politicians insist that Iraqi Christians should have no reasonable prospects in other countries that accept Iraqi refugees, like Syria and Jordan. A return to Iraq must also be out of the question.
A “Life-Threatening Situation”:
An important Iraqi Christian who once agreed with Maliki in opposing the Christian exodus from Iraq now appears to have changed his mind. He is Cardinal Emmanuel III Delli, the patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq. He recently visited the Bishops’ Synod in Rome. The latest pogroms in Mosul are “evidence of the life-threatening situation of Christians in Iraq,” he told the Pope.
The persecution affects a community with roots in Mesopotamia stretching back almost 2,000 years. This community has been consistently loyal to the Iraqi state, founded in 1921. Christians served Iraqi kings as ministers and bankers; they served the rebels of the 1960s as military doctors and professors; and they served the former dictator Saddam Hussein as government bureaucrats and helicopter pilots. No one had to ask them twice in 2003 when it came time to build a new Iraq. But because the Christians, once were courted by Saddam, were always among Iraq’s most well-educated and affluent citizens, they were also targets of resentment.
The ongoing power struggle over resources and territories that started with the US invasion now threatens to crush the shrinking community of Christians.
It’s a silent war in the ethnically and religiously mixed northern provinces. Kurds claim the city of Kirkuk and large parts of Tamim and Nineveh provinces. Muslim Arabs, many of them settled there by Saddam Hussein, oppose the Kurds. Christians are caught in between, along with Yazidi and Shabak minorities.
Der Spiegel (abridged)