Thousands of Iraqi Christians flee Mosul as killings continue

McClatchy Newspapers
Christians in Mosul are fleeing their homes after a spate of killings this week that left 12 Christians dead in one of the largest Christian communities in Iraq.

The killings follow large protests by the community last month against the passage of the provincial elections law. An article that would give representation to Christians and other minorities was removed from the law before its passage.

Now the last safe haven for Christians is gone, said Canon Andrew White the vicar of St. George’s church in Baghdad.

After a spree of killings and forced evictions of Iraqi Christians in Baghdad last year, many fled to Mosul. But even there they could not escape the danger. In February of this year the Archbishop Paulos Faraj Raho of Mosul was kidnapped and killed.

“Christians are being killed in the only place they felt safe, in Ninevah,” White said, referring to the province of which Mosul is the capital. “This is where they fled to and now there’s no safe place for them.”

Over a thousand Christian families have fled Mosul for outlying villages and villages in the Kurdistan region in search of safety, a spokesman for the Ministry of Endowment and Religious Affairs said. Posters are being put up with guidelines on how to leave.

“The Christian families left in Mosul are very few indeed,” said Mariwan Nakshabandee, spokesman for the Ministry of Endowment and Religious Affairs, which oversees Christian communities in Mosul.

Iraqi Assyrian and Chaldean Catholics trace their roots to ancient Mesopotamia and Christian communities were prominent in many major Iraqi cities, including Mosul in the north and Basra in the south and Baghdad. The capital had enclaves in the central neighborhood of Karada, the eastern neighborhood of New Baghdad and nearby al-Ghadir as well as Dora in the capital’s south.

Christians once were estimated to be about 3 percent of the Iraqi population, or about 800,000 people.

But as Iraq grew bloody and violent the Christian community dwindled. Now some estimate that more than half of Iraq’s Christians have fled. White believes that the Christian community is about a quarter of the estimated 800,000.

“It isn’t easy for these people to leave,” he said. “They have no representation…. We need the Christian world to do something about it.”

On Saturday, three more Christian men were found dead in Mosul. Among the 12 killed just this week were doctors, engineers, pharmacists and at least one disabled man. Three empty homes of Christian families in eastern Mosul who had fled were reduced to rubble as a warning, police in Mosul said.

Some of the assassins told those they killed “you want an autonomous region,” said Auxiliary Bishop of the Chaldean Patriarch in Baghdad Shlemon Wirduni, who was getting updates every few hours from churches in Mosul. The assassins were referring, he said, to aspirations of some Assyrian and Chaldean Christians to create an autonomous Christian region in the northern plains of Ninevah Province.

Wirduni lamented that despite outcries to the international press, United Nations officials and Iraqi government officials nothing was being done.

In Ninevah province, governor Duraid Kashmoula said the increase in attacks on Christians was due to the failure of a recent security operation in Mosul. He blamed al-Qaida in Iraq, an extremist Sunni group, for the recent string of killings.

Mosul remains a volatile province despite a recent security operation and both Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police officials said they’d seen and uptick in Al Qaida in Iraq activity in the area.

“Killing the peaceful Christians is a crime and it doesn’t pass without punishment,” he said. According to Kashmoula, the killings were because of “the failure of the security plan and the fleeing of the elements of al-Qaida from Anbar to Mosul unchecked.”

The Hammurabi Association for Human Rights released a statement demanding international attention to the assassinations of Christians, likening it to “genocide.”

“We call on the authorities, central and local and international to stop this Christian bloodshed and to contain the violations and violence and terrorism that Christians in Mosul are facing,” the statement said.

“We also are victims of the civil war between Iraqis and the objective of the threats of al-Qaida is to displace Christians because they are a minority in Iraq,” said Salwan Khoshaba from Al Tahira Church in Mosul.

(McClatchy Newspapers special correspondent Yasseen Taha contributed from Suleimaniyah, Iraq.)