Baghdad Christians under more pressure as women warned to wear veils

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Many Christians have fled Baghdad and their homes have been illegally seized.
Posters have gone up on walls in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, warning Christian women to wear veils.
The posters have been placed near churches and in areas where there are still Christian communities, according to the Fides news agency. They are clearly targeted at Christians as they portray an image of the Virgin Mary and include a text which claims that Mary wore the veil.

The posters represent more pressure on the city’s remaining Christian community.

According to Iraqi press reports, the posting of pro-veil posters was a further sign of intimidation, in addition to kidnappings and expropriation of houses and real estate also suffered in recent months.

A member of the city’s municipal council has claimed that nearly 70 per cent of Christian-owned homes in Baghdad have been illegally seized.

In an interview with Al-Mada TV station, Mohammed al-Rubai said: “These houses belonged to Christians who fled from Baghdad, seeking refuge from violent attacks targeting them and their homes. The title deed documents have been falsified and the new title deeds have been lodged with the real estate registry. Many properties had been given illegally to other Iraqi citizens.”

The result, he said, was that “it is possible that both parties [the original and new owners] can possess legally registered title deeds to the same property”.

Two-thirds of Iraq’s Christian population fled the country during the chaos that followed the US-led invasion. According to the NGO Baghdad Beituna [Baghdad Our Home], there have been more than 7,000 violations against properties belonging to Iraqi Christians in Baghdad since 2003.

Saad Jassim, the group’s director, said: “Most of the Christians who left Iraq for Europe had their homes stolen. Since then, their ownership was transferred, and the homes are now occupied by militia commanders and politicians in or close to power.”

As well as suffering from illegal property seizures, Christians are under pressure to convert. Earlier this year a senior Catholic bishop in Iraqi Kurdistan warned of the effect of a law forcing the children of converts to Islam to be regarded as Muslims.

Bishop Rabban al-Qas, Chaldean Catholic bishop of Amadiya and Zakho, told AsiaNews the law “will drive Christians away”, accelerating a process that is already under way.

The mass expulsion of Christians from the Middle East will make peace and reconciliation increasingly difficult, according to Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad.

Patriarch Sako told Catholic News Service that there were growing tensions between Sunni and Shiite Muslims who “are killing each other”.

“We Christians, we always bridged the groups and we promoted dialogue, reconciliation and forgiveness,” he said.