Iraq : Terrorists, Gangs Target Christians
Assist New Service — Terrorists and armed gangs specifically targeted Iraqi Christians in 2006.
The anarchistic situation in cities such as Baghdad and Mosul has destroyed all optimism of local Christians. “Almost no one sees a bright future for Iraq ,” said Stefan De Groot, co-worker of the international organization Open Doors which supports and strengthens persecuted believers.
De Groot visits Iraq several times a year. “Every time I visit, I talk with a man from Mosul . Every time he tells me the situation is worse than the previous time I was in Iraq . Another Christian told me he had to buy new clothes for his wife because during a shooting on the streets, her wardrobe was riddled with bullets. A third man explained in detail what happened when he brought his son to school and a car bomb went off. The little boy ran inside the school and saw a human heart hanging against the window.”
Four violent groups are active in Iraq : Sunnite insurgents who used to belong to Saddam’s Baath Party, Sunnites who are fighting for Al Qaeda, Shiites and a group comprised of criminals and gangs who don’t belong to any of the other insurgency groups.
“Each of these parties has their own reasons to intimidate, kidnap or even kill Christians, but the main reason is for money to finance their battles. Most Christians are shop owners and have some money. In addition, the small Christian minority has no armed branch which can take revenge or provide protection for them. Muslim extremists want to spread Islam and remove Christians from their cities,” said De Groot.
As a result, it’s not surprising that the violence is aimed at Christians rather than on Christian “symbols,” such as churches. De Groot stated: “In 2006, attacks on churches only occurred after the uproar over the Danish cartoons of the Islamic prophet Mohammed and again after the pope’s speech in Germany .”
Shortly after the fall of Saddam Hussein, church visitation rose sharply. Since then it has dropped because of all the violence and insecurity. Many Christians have fled to the northern part of Iraq (which is relatively safe) and neighboring countries.
In 1991, approximately 900,000 Christians lived in Iraq . Today there are about half that number in the country. Most Christians left Iraq in the 1990s, but last year a new exodus seemed to appear.
Still, despite the hardships for the Iraqi church, there are some positive developments, said De Groot.
“The sale of Christian books has risen sharply. Children’s materials and study materials are the most requested. The number of Bibles we sell annually is the same as in other years, but apparently Iraqi Christians want to dig deeper into God’s Word. In 2006 we delivered tens of thousands of books. Also we trained about 100 Christians. In 2007 we hope to bring 145,000 pieces of literature to the Iraqi Christians. About 400 people will receive training, and we want to spend $160,000 on socio-economic development.”
According to De Groot, God works in the midst of the violence.
“An Islamic taxi driver was driving in Mosul . He dropped off a Christian client and noticed after a little while that the man had forgotten his necklace. The taxi driver decided to wear the necklace with the cross. Later that day he was stopped by armed men. They asked him: ‘Are you Sunni or Shiite?’ He knew that if he gave the wrong answer he would be shot. He answered quickly, ‘I am neither. I am Christian. Here! Look!’ And he pointed to the cross on his chest. The men laughed and said, ‘We don’t believe you, but drive on.’ When he arrived home he told his wife, ‘Jesus saved me!’ That day he gave his life to Jesus.”