Iraq: Few Christians returning to Mosul


BAGHDAD (AP) — Few Iraqi Christians are returning to the restive city of Mosul despite government pledges of financial support and protection, officials said Wednesday.

Every Christian family that comes back to Mosul would receive 1 million Iraqi dinars — about $865 — on orders of the prime minister, said Jawdat Ismaeel, a local migration official.

But only a handful of Christians have returned, he said.

Nearly 10,000 Christians — roughly half the city’s Christian population — have fled this month because of threats and attacks, according to Iraqi officials. Sunni insurgents are believed to be behind the campaign to drive them out.

Lt. Gen. Riyadh Jalal Tawfiq, the Iraqi military commander for Ninevah province, said the government was fulfilling its responsibility to “give protection to every family that returns home.”

He said the security situation in Mosul was improving. Security checkpoints have been set up and foot patrols are checking the houses of displaced families to see who has returned, he said.

“We urge other families to come back,” Tawfiq said. “We will ensure their protection.”

Political and religious leaders throughout Iraq have spoken out against the persecution of Christians in Mosul, the country’s third-largest city, located 225 miles northwest of Baghdad. A Christian community has lived there since the early days of Christianity.

The recent series of killings, widely blamed on al-Qaida in Iraq, has occurred as the religious minority stepped up lobbying efforts to ensure its representation in upcoming provincial elections in the predominantly Muslim country.

Islamic extremists have frequently targeted Christians and other religious minorities since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, forcing tens of thousands to flee Iraq. However, attacks had declined as areas became more secure after a U.S. troop buildup, a U.S.-funded Sunni revolt against al-Qaida and a Shiite militia cease-fire.