Christians feel heavy loss in Iraq war (Feature)

By Anne-Beatrice Clasmann

Baghdad – Ask Cardinal Emmanuell Delli III, patriarch of the Chaldean church in Iraq, about the murder and flight of Christians from the country and he will respond that the Chaldeans are people of peace, a people with no militia.

He also makes note of the fact that terrorists kill not only Christians, but also Muslims.

Some Christians in Iraq, however, think that conciliatory statements are not enough to stop the exodus of the Christian minority living along the Euphrates and Tigris rivers.

They no longer want to turn the other cheek, but would rather pressure the government and protest their situation in order to raise awareness of it outside Iraq.

‘We all love the cardinal. He is like a gem in his red robe. But something drastic must happen soon before Christians disappear for good from this country,’ said human rights activist Pascale Warda, a former displacement and migration minister.

Warda is an Assyrian Christian who lives in one of the most heavily guarded areas of Baghdad. Although she has a French passport, she does not consider exile a solution.

‘We have to mobilize people in the streets of Iraq. And if that doesn’t work, then we will organize demonstrations in France and Australia,’ she said.

About 1.5 million Christians lived in Iraq when the United States launched the invasion in the spring of 2003 to bring down the regime of dictator Saddam Hussein. Today, according to unofficial estimates, they number about 750,000.

More than 730 Christians have been killed since the US-led invasion. The stark figures don’t provide a human face – the dead include a young man on his way to university and the owner of a housewares store, both killed in early February. Most Christian victims die in the capital, Baghdad, or in Mosul in the north where they are mixed up in the frontline of a power struggle between Arabs and Kurds.

Among the Christians who have been killed are 12 clergymen who now are revered by their parishes as martyrs. Some of the slayings of students, pharmacists, doctors and priests are attributed to al-Qaeda terrorists. But who is responsible for the other killings? According to the Hammurabi human rights organization, more than 70 per cent of the murders of Christians were never explained.

Most Iraqi Muslims have no complaints about their Christian neighbours. Some of them send their children to Christian schools, which have good reputations. But when it comes to protecting their buildings and churches, hardly anyone feels responsible.

On Christmas Day when members of the Shiite Shabak community in the town of Batallah near Mosul tore down the Christmas decorations at an Assyrian Christian church. They complained about the celebration of Christian festivities during the Shiite mourning month of Muharram, which had started a week before Christmas.

To Warda it was particularly shocking that in the latter incident the Shiites were armed and they drove police vehicles – the ominous combination of intolerance and power that has convinced so many Iraqi Christians to flee their homeland.

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