News from Iraq: Christians in Iraq living in fear of 'pogrom' after bomb attacks
- Christians in Iraq living in fear of 'pogrom' after bomb attacks
'It is hard to find a Christian who wants to stay in Iraq,' says senior religious figure as many seek asylum abroad
Martin Chulov and Enas Ibrahim
guardian.co.uk, Friday 12 November 2010 18.06 GMT
For the second time in four years, Linda Jalal and her family are on the run inside their own country. On Tuesday afternoon, they abruptly packed their meagre belongings and abandoned their house in east Baghdad.
The family had been fixing the shattered windows from a bomb placed next to their car when dawned – the attack was not random; it was one of many that day targeting Christian families. "I am scared," she said from a relative's lounge. "How could this happen to us again?"
For Jalal and her mother, Iyada Marouky, the past week has been the worst of their lives. Worse than the grim months of 2003 when they fled their first home in the south Baghdad suburb of Dora after armed men came to their doorstep with a warning. Worse, too, than the initial days of anarchy after the ousting of Saddam Hussein. For all his atrocities, the dictator left the Christians well alone.
"We didn't suffer under him," said Jalal. "But now I am terrified to live in this society. We are being slaughtered like sheep. Yet we are civilians and this is our country."
Jalal's house was one of at least a dozen Christian homes attacked on Wednesday morning. Three more were bombed on Tuesday night. The bombings were the first co-ordinated attack on the city's Christians following almost eight years of civil strife. And for what remains of Iraq's Christian communities, it is starting to look like a pogrom.
The attacks came nine days after al-Qaida stormed one of Baghdad's most prominent cathedrals, slaughtering more than 40 worshippers who had just arrived for mass and horrifying a city that is no stranger to terrible acts of violence.
The ramifications have been enormous. Now, more than any time before, Iraq's Christians are reconsidering their futures in a land where they have prospered since biblical times.
"It's hard to be accurate about how many of us are left," said Abdullah al-Noufali, the head of Iraq's Christian Endowment Fund. "But we numbered around 1 million before 2003 and are around 500,000 now.
"Things have changed this week," he added. "These days it is hard to find a Christian who will tell you he wants to stay in Iraq. The church attack was the worst [crisis] in our history. For thousands of years we have stood alongside other sects here, fought in wars and endured all types of disasters. And now this."
There is barely an Iraqi Christian family in which some members do not live abroad. Many, like Jalal's two sisters, were victims of Baghdad's indiscriminate violence in 2006-07 and were granted asylum through the United Nations. One sister fled with her two children to the Netherlands after her husband was killed for running a shop selling alcohol. A second sister, whose husband was also murdered, now lives in the US.
Marouky, the sisters' mother, said she wants to emigrate as well, with Linda and her fourth daughter, who is now frightened to leave her home.
"I don't care if I live in a tent," she said. "As long as I have security I will sleep without fear. If you read the history of the Assyrians and the Catholics you will see we were very important in establishing the civilisation in Iraq. And now we are being murdered by barbarians.
"When I walk the streets now I feel that people are looking at me with disrespect, especially the religious men and women. They say: 'She is without a hijab, so she must be Christian.' They lower their eyes.
"I cannot trust my neighbours. My only solution is to isolate myself and to hide from society. How is this life? I say again that if any country accepts me, I will leave right now."
A bone-chilling fear seems pervasive throughout many of Baghdad's Christian communities. It started with the church massacre and became much worse this week when terrorists started attacking congregation members where they live.
But in the northern city of Mosul, fear has been endemic for the past five years. "You want to know our situation?" asked Father George Fatuhi, from the Mar Boulos Chaldean Catholic Church in central Mosul. "The attacks started in 2003 and they haven't stopped. Can you imagine this: there were 4,000 Catholic families living here back then and now around 20 percent remain.
"My church has been attacked four times. Sometimes on Sundays we have only 20 people at mass. If these attacks continue, I don't think you will find one Christian left in Iraq."
On Wednesday, a commemoration mass inside Our Lady of Salvation Cathedral, still stained with the blood of two dead priests and the terrorists who killed them, turned into a summit about the future for a growing group of reluctant Iraqis.
"This is our grandfathers' land and we do not want to leave," said Chaldean Patriarch, Cardinal Emmanuel Delli. "We should encourage Iraqis to stay. We want peace and we want security."
Later in the week, the President of the Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq offered all Iraq's Christians refuge and safe-keeping. "I will protect them and I will give them benefits," said Massoud Barazani.
But few seem willing to take up his offer.
Bassam Sami, 22, had stumbled out of Our Lady of Salvation at the end of the siege and collapsed into my arms. "I will leave with my family tomorrow," he sobbed, drenched in sweat and speckled with blood. Almost two weeks later, he had not changed his mind." Our souls are in danger and our souls are our most valuable thing," he said. "The solution is to emigrate. We have to leave this place for anywhere in the world."
Baghdad attacks on Christians prompt archbishop's call for mass exodus
Survivors of today's attacks have been contacting foreign embassies, saying that they will be killed if they remain in Iraq
Martin Chulov in Baghdad
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 10 November 2010 19.31 GMT
Power-sharing deal reached in Iraq
Rival blocs set to form a new government that retains al-Maliki as prime minister and Talabani as president.
Last Modified: 11 Nov 2010 12:40 GMT
Iraqi politicians have broken an eight-month political impasse by agreeing to take part in a new unity government headed by the incumbent prime minister.
The Sunni-backed Iraqiya coalition, which had been opposing Nouri al-Maliki, has decided to join his government.
Iraqiya joins the Kurdish alliance in supporting another four-year term for al-Maliki following months of contentious negotiations.
"This is a great victory for Iraqi people, which came at a late stage," Massoud Barzani, president of semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, said after brokering the unity deal.
Jalal Talabani of the Kurdish alliance will remain president, and Iraqiya's Iyad Allawi is expected to lead a newly created council with authority over security.
Al Jazeera's Rawya Rageh, reporting from Baghdad, said the strategic council is intended to serve as a check on the prime minister's power.
"Al-Maliki emerged as a clear winner ... But it's not entirely bad news for the Sunnis," Rageh said.
Iraqiya has nominated Osama al-Nujaifi, a Sunni leader, as the speaker of parliament, an Iraqiya spokesman told Al Jazeera.
"Finally, fortunately, it's done. It's finished. All the groups are in it,'' Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish politician who took part in the nearly seven hours of negotiations on Wednesday, said.
Ali al-Dabbagh, a government spokesman and member of al-Maliki's State of Law coalition, said Iraqiya had decided after extensive talks to accept the parliament speaker's job and cede al-Maliki the prime minister's job.
The political meeting on Thursday is just the second parliamentary meet since an inconclusive election on March 7.
Iraq has been without a government since that vote, which gave Iraqiya two more seats than al-Maliki's bloc. Neither had enough for a majority in parliament, forcing the factions to negotiate a government.
Over the past months, Iraqiya had repeatedly rejected another al-Maliki term and demanded the right to form the government as the top vote winner in the election.
Politicians from al-Maliki's National Alliance said they would proceed with government formation as
long as they had a political majority - even if other blocs chose to boycott Thursday's parliamentary session.
"We do not imagine a government that does not represent all Iraq's factions ... But the government does not and will not stop, God forbid, if a list stays behind," Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a senior member of the National Alliance, said.
Parliament met briefly in June, but politicians said they needed more time to decide who would hold the highest offices.
Last month, Iraq's high court ordered parliament to resume its sessions, putting pressure on politicians to expedite a deal.
The long deadlock has fuelled tension - even as sectarian violence that came after the 2003 US-led invasion has been receding - while US forces prepare to withdraw in 2011.
A series of attacks on Christian targets across Baghdad on Wednesday stirred renewed fear in the minority community.
The bomb and mortar blasts occurred just 10 days after a bloody siege at a Catholic cathedral in the capital that killed 52 people.
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Last Modified: 03 Nov 2010 23:44 GMT