Iraqi Christians report a decade of blood

By Roxana Popescu
Anjilo Fadheel, who was kidnapped and beaten for being Christian in Iraq, now wears the tattoo of praying hands holding a Rosary he had done after he came to the United States. — Howard Lipin

The day the statue of Saddam Hussein was torn down in Baghdad’s Firdos Square in April 2003 — a day that was the basis for some of the most iconic and debated images of the war in Iraq — Sam, an Iraqi Christian who had a job at a barber shop just down the street from all of the action, skipped work.

“I saw everything with my eyes. I was there,” he said.

Like many Iraqis, he saw promise in the falling statue, and initially things were more or less OK. Even with the church bombings, the ransom kidnappings, the faith-based killings, the sectarian fighting between Shiite and Sunni militias, and the random atrocities that marked everyday life in occupied Iraq, Sam and his family were getting by.

That started to change in 2006, when militias made life unbearable even for those trying to keep a low profile. In late 2009, he fled to Jordan. That was after a group of women threatened his wife because she was Christian, and soon after a Shiite militia tried to recruit him. He eventually moved his family to San Diego.

In an interview this month at a coffee shop in El Cajon, home to one of the largest Iraqi populations in the U.S., Sam asked that his last name and workplace not be published. Even now, halfway around the world, he fears persecution because of his religion. He has a lingering regret: “We should have come before.”

But he knows he’s among the lucky. “Some people, they suffered more than us,” he said.

ISIS, the shorthand name for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, a militant group that wants to create a fundamentalist caliphate, recently claimed much of northern Iraq and has been persecuting Shiite Muslims, Kurds, Christians and other minorities. San Diego County’s Iraqi population — estimated at 70,000 people — has watched with dread and a sense of familiarity because they say this is just the latest chapter in a slow and painful extinguishing of their people in a land they occupied for almost 2,000 years.


For Iraqi Christians, the past decade has been one disaster after another: first the emergence of violence that touched the lives of Iraqis, regardless of their religion, tribe or ethnicity, followed by violent and political persecution by radical insurgents and a noninclusive government.

Chaldeans in San Diego say they are haunted by their own tortured memories, as well as a stream of anguishing updates from their homeland. Now that ISIS has stormed their ancient homeland and killed or displaced Christians in the north, there’s a sense among Chaldeans in San Diego and in Iraq that help is urgently needed, coupled by a fear that any action would already be too late.

Mark Arabo, a Chaldean community leader who’s been pushing for safety measures and humanitarian aid, relayed a message to the international community he received from a man stuck in Iraq: “By the time you guys do everything you’re doing, there will be no Christians left (in Iraq). We’ll all be dead.”