Attacks on Mosul Christians condemned by UN

225588.jpgby Gerald Butt, Middle East Correspondent

In need of protection: Iraqi Christians set up tents for displaced Christian families in a soccer stadium in Burtulla, east of Mosul, on Sunday AP

THE United Nations has condemned the recent spate of attacks against Christians in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. Over the past two weeks, at least 14 Christians have been killed, and more than 1300 families have fled the city.

In the most recent incident, the owner of a music store was shot dead by gunmen. His nephew, who was in the shop at the time, was injured. A number of shopkeepers have been targeted, and houses belonging to Christian families have been blown up. Those killed over the past two weeks include an engineer, a doctor, and a disabled man.

The UN’s Special Representative for Iraq, Staffan de Mistura, said that the murders were “aimed at fuelling ten­sions, and exacerbate instability at a crucial time. Respecting and guaran­­teeing the political rights of minori­ties in Iraq is fundamental to a stable and democratic future for the country.” 889977.jpg

Above: an Iraqi soldier stands guard outside a church in Dora district, Baghdad, on Tuesday AP

UN sources say that many of the Christian families who have left Mosul over recent days had arrived there earlier from Baghdad, be­lieving they would be safer in the northern city. Up to now, Mosul has had the reputation of being one of the most relaxed cities in Iraq, with Arabs, Kurds, and Turkmen living in harmony.

The Prime Minister of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki, has ordered an investiga­tion into the increase in violence in Mosul, and has ordered the deploy­ment of 1000 extra police on the streets. The latest reports from the city say the number of attacks on Christians has diminished since arri­val of the police reinforcements.

It is unclear who is behind the campaign targeting Christians. The Sunni extremist al-Qaeda organisa­tion and Kurdish groups are among those being blamed.

Christians are uncertain which group has been carrying out the killings, but they are in no doubt about why they are happening. The Archbishop of Kirkuk, the Most Revd Louis Sako, said: “We are the target of a campaign of liquidation, a cam­paign of violence.” In the view of Yousif Gorgees, a Christian in nor­thern Iraq, “It’s a systematic, planned scheme to empty Mosul of all Christians.”

Since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003, Christians in Iraq, who constitute only three per cent of the country’s population of 28 million, have felt increasingly vulner­able. Several thousand have moved to safety in Jordan and Syria.

After his first visit to Baghdad earlier this year, the Bishop in Cyprus & the Gulf, the Rt Revd Michael Lewis, said that Christians in Iraq felt isolated and largely neglected by Christianity worldwide. He said that lay and ordained Iraqi Christians he spoke to “felt during and after the 2003 invasion it was a scandal that no attention was paid to the religious complexity of the country and the extremely ancient, honoured, and acknowledged position of Christians of various sorts there”.

Christians who remain in Iraq worry that “the rest of world Chris­tianity has taken its eye off them and the particular plight they face.”

Agencies reported on Friday that Archbishop Sako, the most senior Chaldean cleric in Iraq, warned that Christians in his country face “liquidation” if the Iraqi government and the US military do not increase protection for religious minorities in Iraq.