Don’t flee Kirkuk, Iraqi Christians are urged

8585858.jpgby Gerald Butt Middle East Correspondent
Ominous? The body of one of the three Christians murdered in Kirkuk is carried into a church there a fortnight ago CHRISTIAN families living in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk have been urged to remain there, despite the murder of three members of the minority community last week.

Security sources said that gunmen broke into a home in a southern district of the city and shot dead two Christian women. In a separate attack in the same area, one man was killed and two were wounded in a shooting in their home.

Last autumn, in a spate of attacks on Christians living in the northern city of Mosul, 15 Christians were killed. Their deaths prompted dozens of families to leave the city. Only when police and army reinforce­ments were deployed did the exodus gradually stop.

The Governor of Kirkuk, Abdul Rahman Mustafa, said that security in the city was being reinforced to deter the intimidation of Christians. “We will not stand with our hands behind our backs. We will pursue the wicked people who are trying to stir sectarian strife in Kirkuk. I’m asking Christian families not to fall for this ploy.”

The Chaldean Archbishop of Kirkuk, the Most Revd Louis Sako, described the killing of the three Christians as “an outrageous and despicable act. The main objective of these crimes is to create chaos and promote strife and divisions among the people of Kirkuk. I call on Christians not to be jarred by these crimes and to stay in Kirkuk. We are sons of this city.”

The population of Kirkuk com­prises Arabs (Sunni Muslims and Christians), Kurds, and Turkomen. Tension is rising because the Kurds are insisting that the city and the surrounding oilfields should be in­cluded in their autonomous northern region. The government in Baghdad is adamant that they should not.

The former President, Saddam Hussein, moved a large number of Arabs to Kirkuk to counter the Kurdish presence in the city. Political and diplomatic efforts to reach an agreement on the fate of Kirkuk have made no progress, and plans to hold a referendum on the subject have been postponed.

A more general concern among Iraqi Christians is the recent upsurge of violence in Baghdad and else­where. During April, 355 Iraqis were killed, and hundreds more were injured.

The fear is that the renewed violence may foreshadow what will happen when US forces leave Iraq. If, as some commentators suggest, civil war breaks out between Muslim groups, then still more Christians are likely to follow the thousands who have already left the country.

It is estimated that about 500,000 to 750,000 Christians are still in Iraq — a country with a total population of some 28 million.