More Christians Flee Iraq after New Violence
A new wave of Iraqi Christians is feeling to the north or abroad as violence increases against the minority. “The flight — involving thousands of residents from Baghdad and Mosul, in particular — followed an Oct. 31 siege at a church in Baghdad that killed 51 worshipers and 2 priests and a subsequent series of bombings and assassinations singling out Christians,” the New York Times reports.
By Steven Lee Myers
12/12/2010 Iraq (New York Times) – A new wave of Iraqi Christians has fled to northern Iraq or abroad amid a campaign of violence against them and growing fear that the country’s security forces are unable or, more ominously, unwilling to protect them.
The flight — involving thousands of residents from Baghdad and Mosul, in particular — followed an Oct. 31 siege at a church in Baghdad that killed 51 worshipers and 2 priests and a subsequent series of bombings and assassinations singling out Christians. This new exodus, which is not the first, highlights the continuing displacement of Iraqis despite improved security over all and the near-resolution of the political impasse that gripped the country after elections in March.
It threatens to reduce further what Archdeacon Emanuel Youkhana of the Assyrian Church of the East called “a community whose roots were in Iraq even before Christ.”
Those who fled the latest violence — many of them in a panicked rush, with only the possessions they could pack in cars — warned that the new violence presages the demise of the faith in Iraq. Several evoked the mass departure of Iraq’s Jews after the founding of the state of Israel in 1948.
Iraq’s leaders, including Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, have pledged to tighten security and appealed for tolerance for minority faiths in what is an overwhelmingly Muslim country.
“The Christian is an Iraqi,” he said after visiting those wounded in the siege of the church, Our Lady of Salvation, the worst single act of violence against Christians since 2003. “He is the son of Iraq and from the depths of a civilization that we are proud of.”
“Their faith in God is strong,” said the Rev. Gabriele Tooma, who heads the Monastery of the Virgin Mary, part of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Qosh, which opened its monastic rooms to 25 families in recent weeks. “It is their faith in the government that has weakened.”
The Christians and other smaller minority groups here, however, have been explicitly made targets and have emigrated in disproportionate numbers. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, these groups account for 20 percent of the Iraqis who have gone abroad, while they were only 3 percent of the country’s prewar population.
More than half of Iraq’s Christian community, estimated to number 800,000 to 1.4 million before the American-led invasion in 2003, have already left the country.