Friday, May 11, 2007

Iraqi Christians Demand Protection

UPDATE: Check out the new blog covering the Mid East: Outsider On The Inside

Two of Iraq's top Christian leaders have issued a joint statement urging the government to do more to protect Iraqi Christians, who they say are facing "persecution" from terrorist groups:

In a joint statement, Patriarch Mar Dinka IV of the Catholic Assyrian Church of the East and the Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Emmanuel Delly of Babylon said that Baghdad's remaining Christians were facing persecution.

They blamed the so-called "Islamic State of Iraq," an alliance of Islamist insurgent groups that serves as an Al Qaeda front, for much of the violence. "Christians in a number of Iraqi regions, especially those under the control of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq, have faced blackmail, kidnapping, and displacement," the statement said. The churchmen expressed surprise that Al Qaeda's influence has "reached parts of Baghdad while the government has kept silent and not taken a firm stance to stop their expansion." Before the US invasion in March 2003 there were estimated to be around 800,000 Christians in Iraq, around 3 percent of the otherwise largely Muslim population, living mainly in urban centers such as Baghdad.

Although there were some attacks on churches in the immediate aftermath of the fall of Saddam Hussein, Iraq's Christians were not especially targeted while rival Sunni and Shiite Muslim factions went to war. As a relatively wealthy community, however, many Christians fell prey to kidnap and ransom gangs and many - probably more than half - of them have fled the country or moved to the relative safety of Iraqi Kurdistan. Now there are reports that Salafist groups such as Al Qaeda, fundamentalists who believe that Islam can be renewed by returning to the values of the era of the Prophet Mohammed, are targeting Christians on purely sectarian grounds.

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