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Jan 20th, 2011


Last Christians Ponder Leaving a Hometown in Iraq

Town was home to 70 Christian families before 2003 U.S. invasion

Image: A confessional booth at the Mary Queen of Peace church in Habbaniya Cece, Iraq
A confessional at Mary Queen of Peace Church in Habbaniya Cece, Iraq, goes unused, and services are no longer held. The town’s last Christian man acts as caretaker but aches for what has been lost. (Photo credit: Jehad Nga / The New York Times)

By John Leland and Duraid Adnan

January 20, 2011

Excerpts

HABBANIYA CECE, Iraq — The last Christian man in town goes to church each morning to clean the building and to remember the past. Romel Hawal, 48, was born in this town in Anbar Province back when most of the population was Christian. Now, he said, his 11-year-old son knows no other Christians and has no memory of attending a church service.

“When my son swears, it is on the Koran, not the Bible,” Mr. Hawal lamented.

His wife wants to leave town or leave the country, joining what is becoming an exodus of Christians from Iraq and throughout the Middle East. …

Image: Romel Hawal
Romel Hawal, a Christian, sits in the garden of the Mary Queen of Peace church in Habbaniya Cece, Iraq, on Jan. 17, 2011. (Photo credit: Jehad Nga / The New York Times)

Here in Habbaniya Cece, residents talk about their town as an oasis of ethnic and religious harmony, where Christians and Muslims, Arabs and Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites all lived together for decades without friction. …

As Anbar Province became a stronghold for Al Qaeda in Iraq and other Sunni extremist groups, Christians and Shiites, feeling singled out, fled the area, until this town of 10,150 had only one Christian family, down from about 70 families before the American-led invasion of 2003. …

Khadem Owaid, the caretaker of the Shiite mosque, said people from the town had no part in the sectarian violence that swept through the province after 2003. “The occupation destroyed everything,” Mr. Owaid said. “It was strangers who came and made trouble, trying to plant something between us.” …

Mr. Hawal, who is Assyrian, switched to Mary Queen of Peace, which is Roman Catholic, after his brother became the caretaker, and remained after his brother moved to Baghdad and then to the Kurdistan region in northern Iraq. About half of Iraq’s Christians have left the country since the invasion.

Mr. Hawal remembered Christmas celebrations in the garden at Mary Queen of Peace, staying up all night with his Muslim neighbors, both Arabs and Kurds.

“This is history for us,” he said. “I can still smell my friends here and my family here. Many friends now say I should leave, that they have work for me where they are, but I can’t leave the church.”…

The church building now is a monument to their absence, with its heavy wooden pews moved to the edges of a barren concrete floor. It has no heat or electricity. Next to it is a large field of garbage. “When I come here I feel pain,” Mr. Hawal said. “I don’t think it will ever be back again like it was, when we had a beautiful garden.” …

———

Related reports on this site

Image: Christians flee Mosul
Cars and trucks loaded with suitcases, mattresses and passengers cradling baskets stuffed with clothes line up at checkpoints to flee Mosul on Monday, Oct. 13, 2008, a day after the 10th killing of an Iraqi Christian in the northern city so far this month. (Photo credit: Emad Matti / AP)

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

Christians Persecuted in Iraq (Dec. 30, 2010)

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

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

Christians Flee Iraqi City (Oct. 12, 2008)

———

FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — January 20, 2010

Iraq-Afghanistan Casualties

One year ago today, I provided my weekly report of U.S. military deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Marine Sgt. Christopher R. Hrbek, 25, Westwood, N.J., died Jan. 14, 2010 when he stepped on an improvised explosive device while supporting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan. He was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Sgt. Hrbek was in line to receive a Bronze Star with combat “V” for saving the life of his sergeant major, who stepped on an IED under enemy fire Dec. 23, 2009. Hrbek was a local firefighter who joined the Corps in January 2003 in response to the Sept. 11 attacks. He served two tours in Iraq between September 2007 and March 2009.

———

FROM THE ARCHIVES: Two Years Ago — January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day

Two years ago today, on Jan. 20, 2009, I noted the inauguration of Barack Obama 44th president of the United States of America.

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9 Responses to “Christians Fleeing New Iraq”
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