Iraqi police deployed in Mosul to protect Christians

MICHAEL JANSEN in BeirutIRAQ: TWO IRAQI police brigades were deployed yesterday in the northern city of Mosul to protect Christians from the worst violence they have seen in five years.

Tight security was clamped on Christian neighbourhoods and churches to halt a spate of attacks which since Friday have left a dozen dead and prompted nearly 1,000 families to flee.

The bodies of three Christian men were found on Saturday and three empty Christian houses were bombed. The fatalities included a doctor, an engineer and a handicapped person. Some refugees found sanctuary in the autonomous Kurdish region, where security is better than in the rest of the country.

Duraid Kashmoula, the governor of Nineveh province where Mosul is located, blamed the assaults on al-Qaeda, which has moved into the city after being driven from Anbar province by US and Sunni tribal forces.

In recent months Mosul has become the most violent city in the country but Christians had been relatively safe. Many Christians driven from Baghdad between 2004 and 2007 had settled in Mosul. Canon Andrew White, the vicar of St George’s church in Baghdad, observed: “Christians are being killed in the only place they felt safe.”

Al-Qaeda is not the only possible explanation for the targeting of Christians at this time. The killings follow protests by Christians, Turkomen and other minorities against the removal of a provision in the provincial elections law, adopted last month, setting quotas for minorities in provincial councils.

The protests created anti-Christian feeling among communities already tense because of the Kurdish demand that the mixed city of Kirkuk should be annexed to the Kurdish region. Some elements accuse Chaldean and Assyrian Christians of seeking to establish an autonomous region in the north of Nineveh.

Last week archbishop Louis Sako of the Chaldean church, Iraq’s largest, called on the US military and the Iraqi government to protect Christians and other minorities which are being subjected to “a campaign of liquidation.” Since the 2003 US occupation more than 200 Christians have been killed, including Mosul archbishop Paul Faraj Rahho, and between a third and a half of the 800,000 Christians living in Iraq before the war have fled the country.

Bishop Sako complained that the Shia government of prime minister Nuri al-Maliki had not honoured pledges to safeguard minorities. “We have heard many words from . . . Maliki, but unfortunately this has not translated into action. We continue to be targeted. We want solutions, not promises.”

Iraq’s Christians belong to the ancient Syrian Orthodox and Catholic, Armenian Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches.