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‘Leave, crusaders, or have your heads cut off’

By Aqeel Hussein in Mosul and Colin Freeman,
For the Full Story, Go to Sunday Telegraph
“A letter was delivered to my door with two bullets placed on top of it,” said Mr Fadi, 32, standing watchfully in the neat garden of his two-storey villa. “It said: ‘Leave, crusaders, or we will cut your heads off.’ They want us to go from Mosul completely.”

After months as a nervous bystander to the spiraling civil war between Sunni and Shia Muslims, Iraq ‘s Christian minority now faces the specter of sectarian violence coming to their traditional home city. They fear that al Qaeda-backed zealots within the Sunni community, which forms the bulk of Mosul ‘s one million population, want to end nearly 1,500 years of co-existence with an onslaught of ethnic cleansing.

Residents say that the campaign, which they claim has intensified in recent weeks, is prompted by Sunni fears of a complete Shia takeover of Baghdad in coming years. In response, Mosul would be turned into a northern capital for a Sunni-dominated enclave, which would include Saddam Hussein’s home town of Tikrit and stretch south to the anti-American towns of Fallujah and Ramadi.

The fact that no such blueprint has been endorsed by the Iraqi government is of little comfort to Christians. The plan’s architects, they fear, are capable of enforcing it themselves through threats and indoctrination alone. For proof, they say, look no further than playgrounds, where Christian and Sunni Muslim children have played together for decades.

“Our children are told by other pupils that they are ‘f***ing spies’ who have brought the Christian occupation to Iraq ,” said Father Shamoun Butris, a Christian minister in Mosul . “It is not true, but makes no -difference.”

Muslim leaders deny such claims. Yet the more hard-line clerics make clear that they no longer see Christians as part of Mosul ‘s future. “We want an Islamic society, and the Christians should leave because they follow the occupiers’ religion,” said Saad al Jibouri, from the Sunni Al Rahma mosque. “We did not force them to leave, nor did we kill any of them.”

With talk now growing of partitioning Iraq into federal states for Sunni, Shias and Kurds, some Iraqi Christians want their own, autonomous zone in an area west of Mosul. But the plan has little chance of success with the Iraqi government, and with about half of their number still resident 250 miles away in Baghdad , it has limited support among Christians themselves.

For some in Mosul , there is bewilderment at why the West – with its powerful Christian figures in George W Bush, Tony Blair and Pope Benedict XVI – cannot help. Among them is Firaz Adis, 51, who will pass this Christmas without his son Ricot, kidnapped from Mosul University four months ago. “I paid a ransom of $10,000 but they killed my son anyway,” he sobbed. “They said ‘This will keep happening as long as you are agents of the occupiers’. I ask all the Christians in the world: ‘Please help us’.”