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Iraqi Christians Get Set for a Grim Christmas

Interreligious peace rigidly enforced by Saddam Hussein fell apart after 2003 U.S. invasion

Image: A Christian woman grieves during a mass at Our Lady of Salvation church in Baghdad, Iraq
A Christian woman grieves during a mass at Our Lady of Salvation church in Baghdad, Iraq, on Dec. 10, 2010. Iraqi Christians have gathered for mass in the same church that more than a month ago was the scene of a horrific bloodbath that left scores dead and wounded. (Photo credit: Hadi Mizban / AP)

By Rebecca Santana

December 19, 2010

IRBIL, Iraq — They saw their brethren murdered during Mass and then were bombed in their homes as they mourned. Al-Qaida vowed to hunt them down. Now the Christian community of Iraq, almost as old as the religion itself, is sensing a clear message: It is time to leave.

Since the Oct. 31 bloodbath in their Baghdad church, Iraqi Christians have been fleeing Sunni Muslim extremists who view them as nonbelievers and agents of the West. At a time when Christians in various parts of the Muslim world are feeling pressured, Iraqi Christians are approaching their grimmest Christmas since the U.S.-led invasion of 2003 and wondering if they have any future in their native land.

They have suffered repeated violence and harassment since 2003, when the interreligious peace rigidly enforced by Saddam Hussein fell apart. But the attack on Our Lady of Salvation in which 68 people died appears to have been a tipping point that has driven many to flee northward to the Kurdish enclave while seeking asylum in the U.S. and elsewhere.

What seemed different this time was the way the gunmen brazenly barged onto sacred ground, the subsequent targeting of homes by bombers who clearly knew every Christian address, and the Internet posting in which al-Qaida-linked militants took responsibility for the church attack and vowed a campaign of violence against Christians wherever they are.

Days later a string of bombs went off outside Christian homes across Baghdad. …

Since 2003 no Iraqi religious or ethnic group has escaped violence. Tens of thousands died in bombings and street battles between minority Sunnis and the Shiites who supplanted them in power after Saddam Hussein, the longtime dictator, was toppled.

But like many of Iraq’s minorities, Christians do not have political clout or militias.

Even before the church attack, thousands of Christians were fleeing abroad. They are more than a third of the 53,700 Iraqis resettled in the United States since 2007, according to State Department statistics.

Since the church attack, some 1,000 families have fled to the north, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said Friday. It said growing numbers of other Iraqi Christians were arriving in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon and contacting UNHCR for help.

How many Christians remain in this nation of 29 million is not reliably known. A State Department report says Christian leaders estimate 400,000 to 600,000 remain, down from a prewar level as high as 1.4 million by some estimates. …

Following the Baghdad church mayhem, some European countries offered asylum to Iraqi Christians. …

More than 600 Christian families fled to the Kurdish area after the church siege, said the Kurdish interior minister, Karim Sinjari. More may have come without registering with authorities. …

Ainkawa, the Christian enclave 200 miles north of Baghdad, has churches, Christmas trees for sale, and a population that has swelled from 7,500 to 22,000 since 2003, according to Ainkawa Mayor Fahmy Matti.

Matti, the Ainkawa mayor, said that about 70 percent of the Christians who moved there after the church attack came from Baghdad, and others from Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, 50 miles east of here. …

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Related reports on this site

Image: Interior of the Our Lady of Salvation church after the attack
A mobile phone camera image obtained by the Associated Press shows the interior of the Our Lady of Salvation church after the attack.

Christian Persecution Continues in New Iraq (Aug. 3, 2011)

Christians Fleeing New Iraq (Jan. 20, 2011)

Christians Persecuted in Iraq (Dec. 30, 2010)

Rivers of Christian Blood in Iraq (Nov. 3, 2010)

Catholic Hostages Killed in Iraq (Oct. 31, 2010)

Christian Cleansing in Iraq (July 12, 2009)

In Iraq, an Exodus of Christians (May 16, 2009; scroll down)

Christians on the Run in Iraq (Nov. 26, 2008)

Christians Flee Iraqi City (Oct. 12, 2008)

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FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — December 19, 2009

 Obama Fires Missiles into Yemen

Tomahawk missile
The Ticonderoga class guided missile cruiser (Aegis) USS Cape St. George (CG 71) launches a Tomahawk sea launch cruise missile (SLCM) during operation Iraqi Freedom on March 23, 2003. (Photo credit: U.S. Navy / Records of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, 1921-2008)

One year ago today, I reported that U.S. Navy warships fired missiles at suspected al-Qaida training camps in Yemen, with that government’s support, according to Pentagon sources. One U.S. official said President Barack Obama personally ordered the missile strikes in northern Yemen.

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FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — December 19, 2008

U.S. Envoy: Zimbabwe Has Collapsed

Misheck Bunyira carries his wife, Janet ...
Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi / AP

Two years ago today, on Dec. 19, 2008 I reported that according to U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer, Zimbabwe had collapsed and ran the risk of deteriorating into Somalia-scale chaos. I also featured a personality profile of Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe that I developed in 2002 with Adam Beatty at the Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics and reported that for the sixth consecutive year, Iraq was the deadliest place in the world for journalists in 2008.

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8 Responses to “After Saddam, Christian Persecution in New Iraq”
  1. Immelman for Congress » Blog Archive » The Pope’s Christmas Message 2010 Says:

    [...] After Saddam, Christian Persecution in New Iraq (Dec. 19, 2010) [...]

  2. Immelman for Congress » Blog Archive » Christians Persecuted in Iraq Says:

    [...] After Saddam, Christian Persecution in New Iraq (Dec. 19, 2010) [...]

  3. Immelman for Congress » Blog Archive » Christians Fleeing New Iraq Says:

    [...] After Saddam, Christian Persecution in New Iraq (Dec. 19, 2010) [...]

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    [...] After Saddam, Christian Persecution in New Iraq (Dec. 19, 2010) [...]

  5. Immelman for Congress » Blog Archive » Iraq Security Blunder Feeds Doubt Says:

    [...] After Saddam, Christian Persecution in New Iraq (Dec. 19, 2010) [...]

  6. Immelman for Congress » Blog Archive » Christian Persecution Continues in New Iraq Says:

    [...] After Saddam, Christian Persecution in New Iraq (Dec. 19, 2010) [...]

  7. Immelman vs. Bachmann » Blog Archive » Rivers of Christian Blood in Iraq Says:

    [...] After Saddam, Christian Persecution in New Iraq (Dec. 19, 2010) [...]

  8. Immelman vs. Bachmann » Blog Archive » Christians on the Run in Iraq Says:

    [...] After Saddam, Christian Persecution in New Iraq (Dec. 19, 2010) [...]

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