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For Iraqi Christians, Money Bought Survival

ICC Note

Iraqi Christians are compelled to pay money to Muslim extremists who threaten to kill the Christians unless such payments are made. According to an article by The New York Times, Archbishop Paulos Faraji was killed when he stopped paying the protection money.

By Andre E. Kramer

06/26/2008 Iraq (The New York Times)-As priests do everywhere, Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho, the leader of the Chaldean Catholics in this ancient city, gathered alms at Sunday Mass. But for years the money, a crumpled pile of multicolored Iraqi dinars, went into an envelope and then into the hand of a man who had threatened to kill him and his entire congregation.

“What else could he do?” asked Ghazi Rahho, a cousin of the archbishop. “He tried to protect the Christian people.”

But American military officials now say that as security began to improve around Iraq last year, Archbishop Rahho, 65, stopped paying the protection money, one sliver of the frightening larger shadow of violence and persecution that has forced hundreds of thousands of Christians from Iraq . That decision, the officials say, may be why he was kidnapped in February.

Two weeks later, his body was found in a shallow grave outside Mosul , the biblical city of Nineveh .

Since the time of the Prophet Muhammad, the founder of Islam, Muslims in the Middle East permitted that diversity in part through a special tax on Jews and Christians. The tax was called a jizya — and that is the name with which the insurgents chose to cloak extortion, Mafia-style, from Christians.

Ms. Malek-Yonan, who testified on the issue of Christians’ safety in Iraq at a Congressional hearing in 2006, accused the United States Army of failing to protect the Christians out of concern that special attention to this minority would play into the hands of insurgent propagandists.

Ms. Malek-Yonan and other Assyrian Christians and experts accuse Kurdish commanders of depriving the Christians of security in an effort to tilt the demographics in favor of Kurds. The expected result, she said, was an exodus of hundreds of thousands of Christians from Iraq . At least hundreds have been killed. One priest was quartered and beheaded.

Still, the Christian population of Iraq has fallen to roughly 700,000 today from a prewar estimate of 1.3 million.

Those who stayed behind faced an agonizing moral choice.

During the fighting last winter, the Assyrian priest said, word trickled out that the Americans had killed Abu Huraitha. Many church leaders used the death of this contact to halt payments. Among them, perhaps most prominently, was Archbishop Rahho. He gave a speech on television in January denouncing the payments and saying that they should no longer be made.

A month later, on Feb. 29, he was kidnapped by gunmen after praying at the Holy Spirit Cathedral. They shot and killed his driver and two guards and bundled him into the trunk of a car. In the darkness, he managed to reach his cellphone and call his church. He implored them not to pay a ransom that would finance violence, church officials said.

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