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Iraq – Religious ‘Cleansing’
SANTA ANA , CA (Assist News Service) — Iraqi Christian dentist Shamir (not his real name) stared at the letter in his hands. It said that he was impure because he was not a Muslim. It said he should leave the country immediately or face the consequences. And if he and his family hadn’t left their house within eight hours, they would die.

He felt rage and fear. Leave the house where his family lived for three generations! He had lived in Dora his whole life. It was the Christian district of Baghdad. Who did those guys think they were?

He remembered the story of one of his neighbors. They had not fled when the first letter appeared. After a few days, armed men came in and killed their dog. His neighbors left their house the same day. Within a few hours a Muslim family moved into the house.

Shamir picked up the DVD that was enclosed in the envelope and began watching it. The DVD started with some verses from the Quran. Then he saw a young man sitting on his knees. The man was interrogated by an armed man wearing balaclavas (headgear covering the entire head, exposing only the face or upper part of it). The young man said he was a Christian. He lived and worked in Baghdad . Then the men explained to him that he was going to die.

Shamir had not heard his wife coming in. “What are you watching, Shamir?”

she asked, but her question went unanswered as he vomited. Before their eyes, the young man was beheaded. Amal was sick, too. “We have to flee,”

Shamir whispered. “Pack only what is really necessary.”

Fleeing To Kurdistan

Within six hours the car was packed. Shamir drove like a madman. Where to go, Syria or Jordan ? Would he be allowed to go there? He was not sure. He decided to drive to the north, to Kurdistan , where he heard it was safe.

A few weeks later he was sitting in a small tract home in Kurdistan . He and his neighbor, a former teacher, tried to catch a goat and milk it, but neither one had any experience with these animals. Shamir was dirty, sweating and above all, frustrated. How could he ever make a living in this place? His children couldn’t go to school because they did not speak Kurdish. Shamir sighed. What would the future bring for him and his children?

He was grateful for the small house. Of course every luxury was missing, but they were tolerated and allowed to stay. Shamir frowned as he thought about when winter would come and this little house had no heating system. Winters tend to be tough in these mountains.

Shamir’s story is one of thousands. He and his family are Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). Every day an estimated 3,000 refugees flee to northern Iraq . Forty percent of them are Christians (these figures are based on information from inside Iraq and other sources, but are very difficult to verify. The figures are a good indication, however, of the present situation of the church in Iraq ). Dora traditionally was a Christian area. Now it has been “religiously cleansed” of most Assyrian Christians.

Churches are increasingly targets of religious violence. On June 5, extremists broke into Mar Yacoub of Nisibin Church in the Dora neighborhood.

According to eyewitnesses, armed militants looted the church, removed the steeple cross, abducted two of its guards and took them to an unknown destination.

Extortion And Kidnapping

Persecution is going on not only in Baghdad but also in other cities. Open Doors fieldworkers met with people who fled from the area of Mosul . A man shared how his brother-in-law had been forced to pay $4,000 a month for two years to a Muslim group to be allowed to continue his business. Then the brother-in-law was kidnapped, and the family received a demand for $600,000.

They have managed to raise $150,000 so far, but this was not enough for the group holding him. Negotiations were continuing with this man, but it’s likely his brother-in-law has been murdered. Such stories of suffering are far too common.

Recently, an Islamic group visited all the families in one Christian quarter of Mosul . They asked for $5,000 (or $2,000 if the family was deemed poor), and it is estimated that now approximately three-quarters of the city has been threatened in some way. What is happening in their city is very similar to the events in the Dora area where religious cleansing is taking place.

Another man told Open Doors that his house had been bombed because they refused to pay $300,000. Another demand for $6,000 was made after the bombing, and because this could not be paid, the home of the owner’s sister was also destroyed within two hours.

Poor Housing And Other Problems

In Kurdistan , some new houses have been built for IDPs, but they are poorly constructed. The houses are very cold in winter and very hot in the summer.

IDPs often have nothing to furnish their new homes.

They have a great need for medical help but they have no money, not even for transportation to visit a doctor, let alone to purchase any medicines needed.

Christians Murdered

Christians are being killed almost everyday in Iraq . Some are known to Open Doors, but many are unknown.

On June 3, a priest and three of his deacons were murdered in Mosul . Father Ragheed Keni, pastor of the Holy Spirit Church in the Al-Noor neighborhood of Mosul , was murdered along with his deacons by unidentified gunmen immediately after the Sunday Mass. The gunmen opened fire, sending a barrage of bullets into the priest and his deacons as they left the church premises.

Is There Hope?

What is the future of the church of Iraq ? Nobody knows. The trials of Iraq ‘s Christian community are hard. From a human point of view, there is no hope.

Only God, by our prayers, can change history. So pray for a living church in Iraq . Pray that the northern province of Kurdistan will stay stable, in spite of many factors that can destabilize the region.