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Iraqi Christians flee gunmen for sanctuary of monastery

Hundreds of Christians have fled their homes in northern Iraq for the sanctuary of a monastery this Christmas after being targeted for their faith.

ICC Note

“It’s very bad for all Iraqis, but Christians suffered the most,”

By Angus McDowall

12/21/2008 Iraq ( In peaceful times, the cool mountain air and breathtaking views afforded by the ancient monastery of Mar Matti provided a congenial day trip for the local people. Clinging to the upper slopes of a steep escarpment, its ancient stone walls echoed to the hushed tones of Aramaic hymns and the Orthodox mass.

But the tranquil life of Mar Matti’s black-robed monks has been shattered by the arrival of hundreds of Christians fleeing a campaign of persecution in Mosul , just 20 miles away.

Their homes raided, their priests attacked and their relatives murdered, Assyrian and Chaldean Christians have become the latest victims of violence in the city, once the most cosmopolitan in Iraq .

“First they came against the Kurds, then against the Yazidis and now they have come for the Christians,” said Jalal Mansour, 43, a former marble worker who fled to Mar Matti with his family after they were threatened by gunmen. “My uncle, an old man, was killed just because of his faith.”

Inside the 4th century complex, a family sat drinking Coca-Cola while their matriarch prayed at the tomb of Matti, the Aramaic name for St Matthew.

“Ten days ago my sister-in-law’s family was attacked: three of them were shot dead,” said one of them, a 25-year-old market stall holder from Mosul who would not give his name in case of reprisals. “Other relatives have been kidnapped and forced to pay the tax levelled by the Muslim empire on non-believers.”

With their home streets unsafe to walk, the family left the city. Now they are considering a move to Irbil , the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region 50 miles away where there have been no major terrorist attacks for nearly two years.

“It’s very bad for all Iraqis, but Christians suffered the most,” said the priest, Father Sabri al-Magdassy. “The lack of strong political parties or a tribal system like the other ethnic groups means we have nobody who can defend our rights. We only have the church.”

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