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Iraqi Christians flee homeland even as war fades

By Jamal al-Badrani

10/6/2010 Iraq (Reuters) – Bassam Hermiz has slashed prices to clear his stock of electrical appliances, close his shop and join many thousands of other Iraqi Christians abroad.

Once numbering some 750,000 in this mainly Muslim country of 30 million, Christians have been trapped in the crossfire of sectarian strife ignited after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein’s secular dictatorship in 2003.

Alarmed that their flock could face extinction, Iraqi Christian leaders appealed to the Vatican for help.

Pope Benedict, also worried about the shrinking Christian presence in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, has called a synod of bishops for October 10-24 to discuss how churches can work together to preserve Christianity’s oldest communities.

The special assembly will consider a Vatican document that decries “disregard for international law,” human rights abuses and an exodus of Christians fleeing conflict in the Middle East.

CHRISTIAN EXODUS

Perhaps only half of a Christian community rooted here for centuries remains, although no official figures exist.

And more Christians are leaving, despite a plunge in overall violence in the past three years as bloodletting between majority Shi’ites and once dominant Sunni Muslims tapers off.

Every now and then Christians still come under attack, especially in the northern province of Nineveh, considered the last urban stronghold of al Qaeda Islamist militants.

It is not always clear whether they are targeted for their faith, for the headlines their woes generate in Western media, for their political allegiances or for other reasons.

In February, gunmen killed eight Christians in the streets or at work in Mosul, prompting thousands of others to flee.

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