Iraq archbishop warns Christians face ‘liquidation’

aleqm5jiz.jpgKIRKUK, Iraq (AFP) — Iraq’s Christians face “liquidation,” the Chaldean archbishop of the northern city of Kirkuk told AFP in an interview, urging Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to guarantee the minority’s safety.

Archbishop Louis Sako also called on the US military to do more to protect Christians and other minorities in the face of a rash of deadly attacks that has prompted growing numbers to flee the country.

“We are the target of a campaign of liquidation, a campaign of violence. The objective is political,” Sako said.

He said that since the US-led invasion of 2003, more than 200 Christians had been killed and a string of churches attacked, and added that the violence had intensified in recent weeks, particularly in the north.

He said it was now time for Maliki’s Shiite Muslim-led government to deliver on repeated promises to do more to protect Iraq’s minorities.

“We have heard many words from Prime Minister Maliki, but unfortunately this has not translated into reality,” he said. “We continue to be targeted. We want solutions, not promises.”

There were around 800,000 Christians in Iraq at the time of the US-led invasion, a number that has now shrunk by a third as the faithful have fled the country, the archbishop said.

He said that Christians are entirely dependent on the government and its US backers for protection as, unlike the Shiite majority, the Sunni Arab former elite or the Kurds, they have no powerful tribes or militias to defend them.

“The Christians of Iraq are not militias or tribes to defend themselves, we have a bitter feeling of injustice, because innocent people are killed and we do not know why,” he said.

Sako stressed that forming Christian militias would not resolve the community’s plight but merely complicate an already complex security situation.

“We believe it is the responsibility of Americans who occupy our country to protect Iraqis.”

The archbishop said that in the main northern city of Mosul six Christians had been killed in less than a week.

“These attacks are not the first. Unfortunately, they will not be the last,” he said.

In March, the body of the Chaldean archbishop of Mosul, Paul Faraj Rahho, was found in a shallow grave in the city two weeks after he was kidnapped.

Rahho, 65, was abducted during a shootout in which three of his companions were killed as he returned home from celebrating mass on February 29.

In Baghdad, gunmen shot dead a Syrian Orthodox priest, Youssef Adel, near his home in the city centre in April in an attack condemned by Pope Benedict XVI.

Lord George Carey, who stepped down as Archbishop of Canterbury in 2002, had warned that the ethnic cleansing of Christians from mainly Muslim Iraq had intensified since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

Iraq’s Christian community includes various denominations.

The Assyrian church has maintained its independence since the 5th century when it broke away from the rest of the Christian communion. Some of its followers still speak a modern version of Aramaic, the language of Christ.

The Chaldean Church broke away from the Assyrian Church when it recognised the authority of the Pope but it retains its own rite.

Iraq also has Syrian Orthodox and Catholic, and Armenian Orthodox and Catholic congregations.

“Those who carry out the attacks want to either push Christians out of the country or force them to ally with some political projects.” Sako said.

He called on Christians not to lose faith with Iraq.

“The government does not belong to one religion… we are not religious extremists,” he said. “Christians are true sons of Iraq.”