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ICC Note: Hat’s off to USA Today for running this story.

Christians, Targeted and Suffering, Flee Iraq
By Zaid Sabah and Rick Jervis, USA TODAY

3/22/2007 Iraq (for the full story, go to USA Today) In between messages of love and faith, Mushtaq Zanbaqa, priest of the Holy Virgin Chaldean Catholic Church in east Baghdad , has a weekly plea for his Christian flock: Don’t leave.

“I’m always telling them that we are a part of this society, and terrorists are targeting all Iraqis,” Zanbaqa said. “They are bombing mosques as well as churches. So, please, don’t leave your own country.”

The flight of Iraq ‘s Sunni and Shiite Muslims from their homes under threat of violence has earned much attention. But Iraq ‘s Christian community has also been targeted and is steadily dwindling as well.

Although they make up only about 5% of Iraq ‘s population, Christians make up nearly 40% of the refugees fleeing Iraq , according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Lately, Sunni militants have forced Christians to pay a jizya (or “donation”) to the insurgency, or be targeted themselves, al-Naufali said. Still, like Zanbaqa, he urges Christians to stay.

“We were here 600 years before Islam and have archaeological sites in Iraq from the first century of Christianity,” he said. “I’m really surprised when someone asks me why we’re still in Iraq .”

Iraqi Christians, known as Assyrians or Chaldeans, congregate in churches similar to those in the West. A frocked priest leads the hour-long Mass, sometimes interspersing the sermon with current events of the day.

Bombs and targeted killings are not the only threats facing Iraqi Christians. They also have to succumb to Islamic traditions enforced in parts of the country.

Zaid Frangoul said his wife is forced to wear a hijab, a head covering worn by Muslim women, each time they leave their Baghdad home for fear they’ll be targeted by militants. They will leave Iraq as soon as his wife, who is pregnant, gives birth, he said.

“We have always been known for our forgiveness and our calls for peace,” Frangoul said. “We don’t carry weapons, and we will not carry weapons. That’s why we are leaving.”