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Iraqi Cardinal: Fear Is Still (Pervasive)

Iraq (AP) — Fear still pervades life in Iraq despite a recent reduction in violence, the spiritual leader of Iraq’s Catholics said Monday, making a Christmas appeal for refugees who have fled the country to return nonetheless.
The U.S. military has said there has been a 60 percent reduction in violence since June, and the incessant sound of car bombs and gunfire that used to fill the days in central Baghdad has clearly abated. . . . Iraq appears to been living through some of the most peaceful moments since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
“Let’s hope that it’s getting better, but I think that it’s the same,” Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, leader of the ancient Chaldean Church and Iraq’s first cardinal, said in an interview with The Associated Press on Christmas Eve. “Because everyone is still afraid to go out. … Because of the car bombs, etc., and other things. Even small animals are afraid of the danger.”

Christians have often been targeted by Islamic extremists, forcing tens of thousands to flee and isolating many of those who remained in neighborhoods protected by barricades and checkpoints. Less than 3 percent of Iraq’s 26 million people are Christians — the majority of which are Chaldean-Assyrians and Armenians, with small numbers of Roman Catholics.

Attacks against Christians peaked with a coordinated bombing campaign in 2004 against churches in Baghdad, and several priests have been kidnapped. Anti-Christian violence also flared last September after Pope Benedict XVI made comments perceived to be against Islam.

Delly, who was elevated to the rank of cardinal last month at the age of 80, appealed to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have fled the country to return.

The cardinal, who has been outspoken in the past about the need to protect Christians, called for unity among Iraqis of all faiths.

. . .Christians, Delly said, were as much a part of Iraq as anyone else.

“For 14 generations we’ve lived in brotherhood and equality with our Muslim brothers. We are sons of this country, we are not foreigners, we are not a minority,” he said. “We are a small number, but not a minority. We love this country and work together with one hand for Iraq to flourish, now and in the future.”

Few left to celebrate Christmas in Iraq

Saad Khalaf / Los Angeles Times,0,4180810.story?coll=la-home-center

By Kimi Yoshino and Usama Redha, Los Angeles Times Staff Writers
December 23, 2007

BAGHDAD — Sajid Rasool Shakir sits on a busy street corner waiting for customers. Sometimes he waits for hours.
But that he’s open for business at all is a bit of a feat: Shakir sells Christmas trees.
Last year, he didn’t even bother. No one in the tiny Christian community was celebrating, and the streets were too dangerous to set up shop outdoors. Buoyed by the drop in violence in recent months, however, business owners this season are stocking their shelves with a full selection of holiday trimmings and setting up Christmas tree lots around the city.
“The situation is better now,” said Nadir Ganim Tawfeeq, an Iraqi Christian who stopped by Shakir’s Christmas tree lot Saturday. “That gives us hope for the future, so we celebrate. Last year, there were just gangs and explosions.”
. . .Christians are estimated to make up less than 3% of Iraq’s 27 million residents, and even that number is diminishing. A report by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that more than 40% of the Iraqis who have fled the country during the war are Christian.
Christians and Muslims have lived side by side in Iraq for centuries, but after the U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein in 2003, insurgents began targeting Christians.
Several churches were bombed in Baghdad, and a priest in the northern city of Mosul was kidnapped and later found beheaded. This year, Sunni Arab militants began knocking on doors of Christians living in Baghdad’s Dora neighborhood, demanding that they pay a “tax,” convert to Islam or leave. In April and May alone, an estimated 500 families fled Dora.
Although Tawfeeq and his wife were shopping for a Christmas tree, they said they wouldn’t be gathering with extended relatives Tuesday. At least 10 of his family members have fled to Syria, Tawfeeq said. “It’s now just me and my wife and my children,” he said.