Christianity in Iraq Moves Closer to Extinction
Islamic militants stormed into Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad during a Sunday evening mass on October 31. Minutes earlier, the militants detonated bombs in the neighborhood and gunned down two policemen at the nearby stock exchange. Their final target, however, was the Christian community in Baghdad.
Upon entering the church, seven or eight suicide bombers held more than 100 Catholic believers hostage at gunpoint. The militants – who call themselves the Islamic State of Iraq and are linked to Al-Qaeda – wasted no time in making their agenda known. They immediately sought the church leadership, shooting Rev. Saad Abdal Tha’ir, Rev. Waseem Tabeeh and Rev. Raphael Qatin. Two died instantly, and the third on the way to the hospital hours later.
Four hours after the siege Iraqi security forces stormed the church. The militants immediately detonated their explosive belts, killing themselves and taking others with them. After all was done, at least 50 worshippers were killed. It’s uncertain when and how the Christians died; either shot by militants, blown apart by explosives, or caught in the line of fire during the police raid. Whatever the cause of death, however, the militants had accomplished their objective.
Within days, the militant group took credit for the massacre declaring that all Iraqi Christians are legitimate targets in their strategy to fight the U.S. and her allies. During the crisis, some militants were overheard saying that the attack was in retaliation for two women allegedly held in confinement by the Coptic Church in Egypt because they had converted to Islam. The claim had no basis, but was a mere excuse to justify killing Christians. The militants used any Muslim grievance at hand to legitimize their assault and encourage all Muslims to follow suite in their annihilation of Christians. The statement online read, “The Ministry of War in the Islamic State of Iraq announces that all Christian institutions, organizations, centres, leaders and followers are legitimate targets for the Mujahedin [holy warriors] wherever they can find them.”
As religious divisions broaden, and minorities are maneuvered like political pawns, peace-loving Iraqi Christians face the realization that they have been deserted – left vulnerable and defenseless by those authorized to protect them, and not permitted to raise their voices loud enough to be heard. The Iraqi government offers them little – if any – security and the U.S. consistently fails to remember their plight when under pressure to appease or confront the demands of larger, more violent parties. It is safe to say that Christians have been forgotten in the U.S.’s Iraq war initiative.
Today, more than a week after the attack, many Iraqi Christians are as afraid as ever that they will no longer be safe in the homeland they love. Some attending the Sunday mass had just prior returned to Baghdad after living years in refugee camps in foreign lands. They had hoped it was safe enough to return. However, with this latest blow – the largest massacre of Christians since the war began seven years ago – many are once again planning to leave.
Since the war’s beginning in 2003, three quarters of Baghdad’s Christians have fled the city. Moreover, nearly half of all Iraq’s Christians have left the country completely, resulting in the largest exodus of Christians in modern times. Without security or employment, most have no desire to return. If Christian persecution persists at the current pace, and hope of stability continues to be lost, there is grave concern that Iraq’s Christianity will near extinction.
Posted by Aidan Clay