Christians Fleeing Iraq Amid Attacks

By Julie Stahl

Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) – A Christian music store owner was shot to death in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, Iraqi police said Monday. It’s the latest in a series of killings that has prompted thousands of Christians to flee the northern city, the Associated Press reported.

The U.S. Army and Iraqi government must act to protect Christians living in Mosul, which is the last bastion of Christianity in Iraq, says a group that helps persecuted Christians.

Duraid Mohammed Kashmoula, the governor of the province that includes Mosul, said on Saturday that about 3,000 Christians have fled the city in the past week to escape threats and attacks by al-Qaeda-linked Sunni Muslim groups, the Associated Press reported.

“The Christians were subjected to abduction attempts and paid ransom, but now they are subjected to a killing campaign,” Kashmoula said, adding he believed “al-Qaeda” elements were to blame. He called for a renewed drive to root out the terrorists.

“The situation is very grave,” said Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo, international director of the British-based Barnabus Fund, which assists Christians suffering discrimination, oppression and persecution because of their faith.

Sookhdeo said that as the conflict in Iraq moved north, militants targeted Christian men particularly. He said more than 800 Christian families had fled in the last two days.

The BBC reported that 12 Christians had been murdered, allegedly by Sunni militants, over the last two weeks, but Sookhdeo said that at least 25 Christians had been killed in the streets over the last four or five days primarily because they are Christians.

Sookhdeo called on U.S. and coalition forces to take responsibility for the security of all the people there and said the Iraqi government needs to protect Christians in the northern province.

“If [the Christians] are attacked there then we’ve lost Iraq,” Sookhdeo told CNSNews.com, adding that the Christian community could be reduced to just a symbolic presence.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki vowed on Sunday to protect the Christians. His office said in a statement that he would order the Iraqi army and police “to provide protection” for members of the Christian community. He also said that security forces would “target the terrorist groups” responsible for the attacks.

According to the Associated Press, violence has continued in the Mosul area despite U.S.-Iraqi operations launched in May to rout insurgents from Mosul, which the U.S. military at the time called al-Qaeda in Iraq’s last stronghold.

Pope Benedict XVI condemned the violence against Iraqi Christians on Sunday.

Prior to the U.S.-led military invasion of Iraq in 2003, there were an estimated 800,000 to 1.2 million Christians living in the country — about three percent of the population of 26 million.

Since then, some say that half of the Christians — who were left relatively undisturbed under the reign of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein — have fled the country.

According the State Department’s 2008 International Religious Freedom Report, “Islamic extremists warned Christians living in Baghdad’s Doura district to convert, leave, pay them a jizya (a tax collected from non-Muslims), or be killed.”

Many Christians from Baghdad fled north and now are being faced with violence again, said Sookhdeo.

Mosul is the ancient city of Nineveh, where the Bible records that the prophet Jonah called the people to repentance to save the city from destruction. Christians have lived there for centuries – longer than most other peoples in that region, said Sookhdeo.

http://www.cnsnews.com/public/content/article.aspx?RsrcID=37350