Flight of Iraq Christians eases but UN remains concerned

Police reinforcements have helped stem the flight of Christians from their homes in Mosul, a local official said on Monday, as the United Nations voiced concern at the community’s plight in the northern Iraqi city.

One Christian was killed and his nephew wounded late on Sunday when gunmen opened fire in the eastern neighbourhood of Hay al-Ekhaa, the latest in a spate of a dozen murders of Christians in the city over the past fortnight.

On Monday there were no reports of violence after nearly 1,000 additional police moved into the city the previous day.

The head of Mosul’s bureau of displaced people, Jaweat Ismael, said there was “no new wave of displacements” on Monday after the exodus of nearly 1,000 families since Friday.

An AFP correspondent said Mosul was full of police manning checkpoints and patrolling churches and residential neighbourhoods in the multi-religious city while volunteer organisations, including the Red Crescent and various church groups, were handing out food and water.

The United Nations special representative to Iraq Staffan de Mistura expressed concern at the violence targeting Christians in Mosul and “strongly condemned” the murder of civilians.

“These acts are aimed to fuel tensions and exacerbate instability at a critical time,” he said in a statement.

The envoy “expressed his concern at the spike in violence that has targeted the Christian communities in recent days, particularly in and around Iraq’s northern city of Mosul.”

He noted the exodus of families from Mosul and said the United Nations was assessing the situation closely.

It had provided help to 102 families as well as emergency assistance on Sunday to another 400, he said.

De Mistura noted that the displacement of families came at a time of heightened tension over minority representation in provincial elections.

Iraq’s 275-member parliament passed a controversial law last month that will allow provincial elections to go ahead in early January, but crucially it struck a clause that would have reserved seats on local councils for Christians.

“Iraq’s minorities have historically been, and remain an integral part of the country and its social fabric, enriching both its culture and politics,” de Mistura said.

“Respecting and guaranteeing the political and legal rights of minorities in Iraq is fundamental to a stable and democratic future for the country.”

Iraq’s third largest city, US and Iraqi commanders consider Mosul to be the nation’s most dangerous centre and the last urban stronghold of Al-Qaeda.

Since the US-led invasion of 2003 more than 200 Christians have been killed across Iraq and a string of churches attacked, with the violence intensifying in recent weeks, particularly in the north.

Around 800,000 Christians lived in Iraq at the time of the US-led invasion, but the number has since shrunk by around a third as the faithful have fled the country, according to the Chaldean archbishop of the northern oil city of Kirkuk, Louis Sako.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki ordered an investigation into the attacks on Christians and pledged to take all steps necessary to protect the threatened community.