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Analysis:Top Shiite condemns church bombs

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  • Rev. Fr. John-Brian Paprock
    Analysis:Top Shiite condemns church bombs By Roland Flamini Chief International Correspondent Published 8/2/2004 2:30 PM WASHINGTON, Aug. 2 (UPI) -- The most
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 2 5:46 PM
      Analysis:Top Shiite condemns church bombs
      By Roland Flamini
      Chief International Correspondent
      Published 8/2/2004 2:30 PM

      WASHINGTON, Aug. 2 (UPI) -- The most significant voice raised in
      condemnation of Sunday's wave of bomb attacks on Christian churches
      in Iraq belonged to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the Shiite Muslim

      "We denounce and condemn these terrible crimes," Sistani declared in
      a statement Monday. "We stress the need to respect the rights of
      Christians in Iraq and those of other religions, including their
      right to live in their own home, Iraq, in peace." Sistani is
      considered the most authoritative cleric in Iraq's Shiite community
      comprising over 60 percent of the population. His quick reaction was
      seen as an attempt to distance mainstream Shiites from the bombings.

      The bombings -- clearly coordinated -- were the first open attack on
      Iraq's Christian minority, although the community had been under
      mounting pressure for some time. So far, no group has claimed
      responsibility, but some Iraqi Christians had privately said Shiite
      fundamentalists could have been responsible.

      The national security adviser to Iraq's interim government, however,
      blames al-Qaida-linked terrorists. Mowaffaq al-Rubaie, said there
      was "no shadow of a doubt that (these attacks) bear the trademark of
      Abu Musab al Zarqawi." The Jordanian-born terrorist who is said to
      have links to al-Qaida is blamed for a string of suicide bombings in
      Iraq. His group has claimed responsibility for the beheadings of an
      American and a South Korean, and the U.S. government has offered a
      $25 million reward for his capture.

      "It's clear (Zarqawi and his extremists) want to drive Christians out
      of the country," Rubaie is quoted as saying by the Italian news
      agency ANSA. But Iraq's Christians are going anyway. Once just shy of
      a million, the Christian community has dwindled down to about 650,000
      because of a steady exodus. Tolerated by the Saddam Hussein regime as
      long as they kept a low profile, Iraqi Christians are being driven
      out by fears of the present violence and uncertainty about the

      The pressure has come from Islamic fundamentalists, according to
      Iraqi church sources. Many Christians have received anonymous letters
      urging them to convert to Islam. The letters usually include a list
      of the consequences of refusal, which include death.

      Several Christian businessmen who sold alcohol have been attacked by
      Muslim fundamentalists in a recent campaign against alcohol sales in
      Iraq. Many of the victims were Armenians, according to reports
      published in Iraq, and the first car bomb blast Sunday was outside an
      Armenian church in Baghdad.

      Also, some Iraqi clerics say Christians have become identified with
      the U.S.-led coalition forces, which are mainly from Christian

      The revised death toll from the car bomb blasts outside four churches
      in Baghdad and one in Mosul during or immediately after Sunday
      services was 11, according to Iraqi authorities Monday. Ten
      worshippers died in Baghdad, and one in the northern city of Mosul,
      in the Sunni Muslim heartland, 220 miles from Baghdad. A sixth bomb
      was found outside another Baghdad church and disarmed by Iraqi

      Meanwhile, Pope John Paul II sent a message of condolence to the
      Catholic patriarch of Iraq, Emmnuel III Delly. "In this hour of trial
      I feel spiritually close to the Iraqi church and Iraqi society, and I
      renew my expression of solidarity with the pastors and faithful," the
      pope wrote. He said he would continue to work and pray "so that a
      climate of peace and reconciliation will soon return to that beloved

      Vatican sources said Monday that the bombings had alarmed the pope,
      who is concerned that a wave of anti-Christian feeling in Iraq could
      spread to other Arab countries and turn into a virtual religious war
      between Islam and Christianity.

      The Russian Orthodox church also issued a statement condemning
      Sunday's attacks. In addition to the Chaldean, Syrian and Assyrian
      Catholics in communion with Rome, Iraqi Christian denominations
      include Armenian, Syrian and Greek Orthodox churches, Presbyterians
      and Anglicans.

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