A Christian priest faces grim New Year in Iraq

Father Nadheer Dako’s flock in Baghdad is shrinking, some having long fled the turmoil and others falling victim to a recent rise in anti-Christian violence. On the last day of 2010, he buries an elderly couple killed in a bombing.
Reporting from Baghdad —

Father Nadheer Dako started the last day of 2010 with a funeral service for an elderly couple killed by a bomb during a string of attacks against Iraq’s small Christian community.

The previous night, Fawzi Ibrahim, 80, and his 75-year-old wife, Jeanette, had opened their door to find a piece of luggage. When they touched the bag, a hidden bomb exploded. Their house was one of 10 Christian targets hit by militants Thursday night.

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Now Dako, who is always ready with a sarcastic barb and a smirk, had to round up enough parishioners to join five relatives for the service at St. George Chaldean Church in Baghdad. It was a cold day with gray skies. Rain pounded the sidewalk and flooded the half-paved streets.

He gathered 20 people and they entered the yellow brick church with its cross standing out among the neighborhood’s Islamic flags.

Dako, 38, is used to living with death. He had become accustomed to danger even before an Oct. 31 siege by Islamic militants at another Baghdad church that left 58 people dead and ushered in a new campaign of attacks against Iraq’s Christian minority.

In 2007, he had played a cat-and-mouse game as he hid from would-be kidnappers who surrounded his church; that same year he narrowly escaped a bomb apparently meant for him.

He had watched too many Christians leave the city for safety elsewhere. But he was not going to let himself fall into depression.

He would scowl and shout from the pulpit and jab the air with his finger. He would smile and indulge in ghoulish humor. Or he would sing.

And on Friday, he would bury a couple, victims of a senseless act of violence, and later in the day would celebrate life again.

“It was a good Santa Claus this year,” he said with a wicked look in his eyes and a sardonic grin after returning home from the funeral.

He quickly veered off into angry screeds against the United States, blaming the 2003 invasion for his country’s woes. He grinned as he said the names of U.S. officials as if speaking four-letter words. He hectored: “Where are you Americans. You promised to bring us good democracy and good government. Where is [former U.S. administrator J. Paul] Bremer?”

At the service for the Ibrahims, he read to the tiny congregation a verse from St. Paul. “God gives us a soul of power and charity, not a soul of fear.”

He had admired the couple; their children had moved years before to the United States and Europe but the Ibrahims refused to leave Iraq. He thought they had been preparing to die. They had readied tombstones months in advance.

As the small group of relatives traveled with the bodies to the cemetery, Dako prepared for his New Year’s service that evening. He sat in his rectory, his collar loosened and a scarf tied tight around his neck, and he thought about what he should say. He made it clear that his group was resilient and would never surrender.

“Jesus asks us not to be afraid, to be a disciple and share the light with the people,” he said.

A baby’s cry came from the next room, where a Christian couple were staying with their child after fleeing from the northern city of Mosul.

Dako changed into a white vestment and stood before a small crowd at 4:30 p.m. The decorations blinked on a white Christmas tree and candles gleamed by the altar. He raised his hands in the air.

“God is the light and peace,” he said. “Protect the dignity of all, Muslims, Christians, Yazidis, Shabak, Sudanis, Pakistanis.”

Some leaned their heads against the wooden benches in thought. For a minute, the power went out and his voice bellowed in the dark.

Later in the evening Dako planned to eat and drink wine with friends. He would call his siblings and mother, who are scattered around the world as a result of the turmoil.

He promised: “Life will continue, and never, never will it stop, even if I die, it will continue. It is God’s will.”

ned.parker@latimes.com

Salman is a Times staff writer.

Copyright © 2010, Los Angeles Times

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Comments (20)Add / View comments | Discussion FAQ
rusoviet at 12:19 AM January 01, 2011
Hey TDCJPS you de’ playah’ man right? Like adulterers well I guess what’s good for the goose (Gingrich, Guiliani, McCain, Liambaugh…) got it yeah no argument but you know they’re pikers

Hey man up bro afterall when it comes to the big league swingers…nuthin’ beats de’ dems:

‘Teddy, Klintonska rapist extraordinaire, John Forbes Kerry, Jessie Jacksoonska…and the king of raconteurs America’s answer for it’s native son – the annointed one that trumped even Lincoln I give you the one the only (drumroll with flourishes)

‘Jack our Jack,,,,if only..show us the way..why….they named a cathedral in NYC after this clown St. John The Divine!’

“Oh come let us adore him for jack alone was perfect oh come let us adore him the putz of all time”

Sam Giancana was right ‘…he shuddah’ had his dick bronzed!’
woobie at 9:50 PM December 31, 2010
Yeah Castanavo, whatever… we all know the Christians have a great track record of massacre and pillaging but as it was in the name of god (or democracy) we are gonna let that slide..

Let those who cast the first stone, etc..blah, blah, blah…

Castanavo at 8:06 PM December 31, 2010
Adam and Eve lived in a land where there was no sin until they took a bite from the apple of doom. God should damn those who damn God, and damn them in the same way that he was damned. If murder takes place, those who are responsible should be brought to justice with the use of protections of law, indeed this has been said before….who are we but those we love?

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