Message from Iraqi Christians in UK
With deep sorrow, the Iraqi Churches in the United Kingdom announce the sad news of the cowardly and barbaric attack on the innocent Christian Sunday worshipers.
On 31.10.10 during Sunday Mass at the Syriac Catholic Church Our Lady of Salvation, in Baghdad, two Catholic priests and more than sixty faithful were killed. Another 120 were wounded. Hundreds of dependents are now helpless.
For the past seven years, the Iraqi Christians have been targeted by waves of attacks on their churches, monasteries, homes, businesses and in persons. A Bishop and several priests were killed and even slaughtered in cold blood. Since the events of 2003 more than half the Iraqi Christians fled the country, thousands have been killed, and more than 60 churches, monasteries were bombed.
His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI and Christian leaders have come out with a strong condemnation of the Iraqi authorities and the foreign troops for not protecting the civilians, especially minorities. Many other countries have done so. We are yet to hear the same condemnation from HM Government.
Iraq is not often front page news except when there is a catastrophe like the one on 31.10.10. The problems of the Iraqi Christians still exist. It is a very heavy price being paid in blood by them who are deeply rooted in their country Iraq when others, regrettably, think NOT, and they are forcing them to leave.
We believe future developments could be even more serious. We therefore ask the Iraqi authorities and the entire world to ensure their safety, security and justice. We ask all peace-loving governments, Human Rights organizations to help the Christians of Iraq. These events are a milestone in the 2000 year history of Christianity in Iraq and the whole Middle East.
The Churches of the Iraqi communities in the United Kingdom will hold a remembrance service for the bereaved families of the Massacre at 19:00 on Friday 12th November 2010 at the Holy Trinity Catholic Church, 41 Brook Green, Hammersmith, London, W6 7BL
By the Independent Catholic News Agency
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The fallout from a church massacre in Baghdad, Iraq, rippled into El Cajon on Wednesday as several hundred Iraqi Christians mourned family and brethren killed in the weekend bloodbath.
The attack by militants unfolded 7,700 miles away, at the Our Lady of Salvation church. But for Iraqi refugees gathered at a downtown prayer vigil, it might as well have been next door.
Manal Naoom of El Cajon said her cousin, a pregnant 23-year-old, was among those slaughtered. “I’m just sickened,” Naoom said at the Prescott Promenade. “Isn’t a church supposed to be a safe haven, a safe place?”
Chaldean Catholic Diocese Bishop Mar Sarhad Y. Jammo tried to come to grips with what happened. At least 58 people were killed, including two priests.“We are in the year 2010. We are in the 21st century after Christ,” he told the somber crowd, his voice rising. “How can barbarism be so much alive?”He called on the U.S. government to take a more active role again in Iraq’s daily affairs. Most American combat troops pulled out of the country by August.
“It is the duty of America to ensure equal constitutional rights for all citizens of Iraq, including Christians,” the bishop said.Some urged the Iraqi government to crack down on militants, who have stepped up their long-running campaign to drive out Christians. An estimated 35,000 Chaldeans and other Iraqi refugees live in the El Cajon area. Many have left their homeland in recent years due to religious persecution.
A dozen police officers, five bystanders and at least 39 worshipers were killed in the massacre. Survivors said one of the priests grasped a Crucifix moments before he died, pleading with the gunmen not to shoot.The attackers reportedly yelled, “All of you are infidels!” A militant organization with ties to al-Qaeda said it was behind the killings.
Iraq’s Christian community dates back centuries. Most members are Catholics who attend Chaldean churches or Assyrian churches.On Wednesday, the American national anthem was sung at the start of the El Cajon event. One speaker, a deacon at a local Chaldean church, thanked East County for embracing the immigrant population.
Wameedh Tozy of El Cajon said he lost two loved ones in the attack — his uncle and the husband of a cousin. Tozy carried photos of both men at the vigil. His eyes were puffy and red.Tozy has little hope the Iraqi government will end the violence. For Christians still in that country, he said, “God help them.”
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Vian Jabburi, a 22-year-old Roman Catholic, was celebrating Mass in Baghdad with her father on October 31 when Al-Qaeda militants stormed the church.Shot through her shoulder during the ensuing siege, Jabburi survived. Her father was also shot and slowly bled to death, while she lay helpless at his side in a pool of her own blood.
"Nothing resembles this experience. Nothing," Jabburi tells RFE/RL as she breaks down in tears at her father's funeral. "The situation was very, very difficult. I still don't know whether it was reality or just a nightmare. I do not know. I really don't know.
"We were bleeding for four or five hours without receiving any help," she adds. "I will leave it to God. He is the only one who can take our revenge."Jabburi is among thousands of Iraqi Christians who suffered through years of sectarian violence in Iraq but is now considering whether to stay any longer.Raad Ammanuel, head of the Office of Christian Endowment in Baghdad, says the attack has caused many Iraqi Christians to rethink whether they have a long-term future in Iraq.
"Those who have an injured member of their family or lost a loved one, they are talking about leaving the country," Ammanuel says. "We do not want this to happen and we do not encourage it. But still, we can not stop people from thinking this way. I have been discussing this with them. But what can I say and how can I reply when they ask me if I am going to bring back the ones they have lost?"
'This Is Our Country'
But other Iraqi Christians are adamant in their determination to stay. Among them is the family of Hanan Fadhil, a math teacher in the Karrada district whose cousin was killed in the October 31 assault."They want to destroy the country and create divisions and conflicts," Fadhil says. "We've been living here all our lives and we are not going to leave Iraq. We will stay. This is our country. I was born in 1956 and I'm now 54 years old. I've been here since then. How can I leave this country?"
Baghdad's heavily fortified Karrada district has been an island of tolerance in Baghdad, where Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims have continued to live alongside Christians in relative harmony.Luis al-Shabi, a Chaldean priest at the Mars Polis Church there, says most residents blame criminals and extremist fanatics for violence that has targeted Iraqis of all faiths.
"When a country is not stable, such things can happen. It happened many times in mosques and it happened also in [Christian] churches many times," Shabi says. "One of them is this recent disaster."But I have to say that Muslims do not do such things," he continues. "Those who commit such acts are not believers of Islam nor Christianity and not even in God. When they have the chance, they come to kill and to massacre people regardless of whether the victims are Muslims or Christians."
Targets Of Al-Qaeda
Indeed, Iraqi Christians have faced the same pattern of beheadings, kidnappings, rapes, and extortion that plagued Iraq's Shi'ite and Sunni communities during the years of chaos after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and before the surge operations of 2007 brought relative stability.That violence caused many Muslims to leave their homes, along with the hundreds of thousands from Iraq's Christian minority who have fled the country.
During the rule of Saddam Hussein, there were an estimated 1.4 million Christians living in Iraq -- many of them Chaldean-Assyrians and Armenians, but also a smaller number of Roman Catholics.Exact figures are impossible to confirm, but some estimates say two-thirds of Iraq's Christians have left the country since 2003 -- leaving fewer than 450,000 Iraqi Christians there today.Al-Qaeda militants want the exodus to continue. On November 3 they threatened to carry out more attacks against Iraqi Christians.
The Islamic State of Iraq, which claimed responsibility for the Baghdad cathedral assault, linked its warning to allegations that Egypt's Coptic Church is holding women captive if they convert to Islam.The group -- an umbrella organization that includes Al-Qaeda in Iraq and other allied Sunni insurgent factions -- is also demanding the release of Al-Qaeda prisoners held in Iraq.
Inflaming Sectarian Strife
Abu Gaith, a 28-year-old Sunni Muslim from the Karrada neighborhood, thinks Al-Qaeda has a deeper motive for targeting Christian churches.
"Everything is clear. The goal is to create problems and aggravate the already tense situation," he says. "The attackers are trying to create new opportunities and light a fire near a barrel of oil. They want the situation to go back to how it was two or three years ago, when there were sectarian conflicts between Sunnis, Shi'a or battles between Muslims and Christians".Western security analysts have come to the same conclusion, saying a weakened Al-Qaeda in Iraq is now trying to rebuild its reputation through high-profile terrorist attacks.
Jane's Security and Military Intelligence Consulting -- part of the British-based Jane's Information Group -- says Al-Qaeda in Iraq is trying to reignite large-scale and prolonged sectarian violence through focused attacks, particularly in Baghdad. It also warns that a wave of attacks across the country in late August suggests the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraqi cities has given the terrorist organization the space it needs to rebuild.
The analysis from Jane's concludes that the inability of Iraqi politicians to agree upon a new governing coalition has been detrimental to the abilities of Iraqi forces to maintain security.Residents of the Karrada district agree. "The only reason for what happened, not only [at the cathedral] but for what is happening every day, is the incompetence of [Iraqi] security forces, especially those deployed in the Karrada district," says Ahmad Jassim, a 40-year-old Shi'ite Muslim who owns a minimarket close to the cathedral in Karrada.
"We know there is a checkpoint or a police car in front of every church," he continues. "Now, how did the gunmen enter the church? Were there clashes before? We did not hear about clashes, which means [the gunmen] entered very easily. Again, how did this happen, especially in Karrada, which is almost like a military camp now?"That sentiment reflects the concerns of many Baghdad residents -- whether Shi'ite, Sunni, or Christian -- who say they have little confidence in the protection provided by Iraqi security forces as the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq continues.
By Maysoon Abo al-Hab, Ron Synovitz, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq correspondents contributed to this report from Baghdad
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Fearing that our readers might think I only want to fill column space, I would have re-published my article "We Must Protect Iraq's Christians", first published on October 12th 2008.
In that article I said that "it is the duty of all Iraqis, not just the government in Baghdad, to protect Iraqi Christians from murder and displacement, and all types of repression against them, especially because they have never been part of alliances against Iraq. They did not come with [L. Paul] Bremer, and others. Iraqi Christians also suffer the worst conditions of any Christians in the region".
This came against the backdrop of an appeal from the Chaldean Archbishop of Kirkuk, Luis Saca, informing the Iraqi government of the need to protect Iraq’s Christians, when he said that "The Christians in Iraq do not have militias or clans to defend them". He added "I feel pain and injustice, because innocent people are being killed and we do not know why".
At the time, we faced condemnation and media campaigns by people affiliated with the Iraqi government, but here we are today witnessing a massacre, along with other atrocities against Christians in Iraq. The massacre did not happen at a checkpoint, or as the result of an assassination of a Christian figure at his home, or on a random road. Instead, it was an organized, armed attack on the Syriac Catholic Church of Our Lady, in the Karrada district of Baghdad. Reports suggest 52 people were killed, nearly two years after the call of Bishop Luis Saca, urging the Iraqi government to protect Christians.
It was striking when Father Youssef Thomas Mirkis, head of the Dominican sect in Iraq, said after yesterday’s massacre that "the plot had been in preparation for a long time, considering the weapons and ammunition found in the cathedral…these take a long time to stockpile". The words of the vicar of Iraq’s Syriac Catholic Church, Pius Kasha, were deeply saddening, when he said "what is clear now is that they [Christians] will all leave Iraq".
Thus, the question today is: What has been done since 2008, rather than 2003, by the Iraqi government to protect an Iraqi component from repression and organized violence? Unfortunately, the answer is nothing! It is easy to accuse al-Qaeda, an organization which never hesitates to commit massacres and atrocities. However, Iraqi Christians remain targets in public, and are outspoken in their demand for government protection, so what has Nuri al-Maliki’s government done for them?
One of the hostages in yesterday’s terrorist attack said "Men wearing military uniforms broke into the church carrying their weapons, and killed a priest on the spot". It is well known that since 2008, Iraq’s Christians, nearly half of whom have left the country, are now turning to the churches [instead of the government] in search of protection from violence. Interestingly, the targeted church was under the protection of security personnel, so how did the terrorists get in?
We can only return to what we said in 2008; that the targeting of minorities, including Iraqi Christians, means the disintegration of Iraq, and is an infringement upon its cultural and political composition. We must ensure that minorities are not excluded on sectarian or ethnic grounds, for this will open the gates of hell. Some are able to incite such a possibility, but so far no one can ensure this will not happen. We must also ensure that tomorrow, the same events do not occur but with Lebanon’s Christians, God forbid. Therefore we say: protect the Christians in our region, in order to protect the virtue of co-existence.
By Tariq Alhomayed
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Sunday's attack by Al-Qaeda on a Catholic church in Baghdad and the slaughter of 46 worshippers has been condemned by the OIC, by Arab governments, by Iraq’s Muslim leaders. We too condemn it. It was an act of unspeakable evil.
Making it infinitely worse is the statement by Al-Qaeda in Iraq claiming responsibility. It has declared war on half a million Iraqi Christians because two Egyptian women, who supposedly converted from Coptic Christianity to Islam, are rumored to be held prisoner by Coptic monks somewhere in Egypt.
The story may or may not be true. The reality may well be more prosaic and connected to the fact that Coptic women get round their church’s ban on divorce by announcing they have converted to Islam and then reconvert (which is legal in Egypt) once they have secured a divorce. Whatever, the rumor is being stirred up by extremists for political gain. But it has nothing to do with Iraqi Catholics. Even if they and Egyptian Copts were one and the same — they are not — the reality is that people in Iraq have no control over what happens in Egypt and cannot be held responsible for it. To insist otherwise is no different from the twisted and bigoted thinking that demonizes all Saudis, all Arabs and Muslims, as terrorists because of the involvement of 17 of them in 9/11 attacks. That is repugnant and so is what Al-Qaeda claims in Iraq.
It is using the Egyptian rumor for its own deadly purposes. It has taken a leaf out of the Zionist history book, re-enacting it with barbaric enthusiasm. There is no difference between this massacre and that of Palestinians by Zionist storm-troopers at Deir Yassin in 1948. The aim is the same, ethnic cleansing. In 1948, the aim was to terrorize Palestinians into fleeing their homes. Today, Al-Qaeda wants to terrorize Iraqi Christians into flight. This week in Baghdad, St Mary’s Church has been Deir Yassin; Al-Qaeda, the Zionists.
The metaphor is not as bizarre as may seem. Al-Qaeda not only acts like the Zionists, it hands them real victories. There are Christians in a number of Arab states. They are Arab as much as the majority Muslims. They are an honored and cherished part of Arab society. Al-Qaeda is trying to divide Arab against Arab. And who gains the most from that? Israel.
Tragically, Al-Qaeda’s tactics may have some effect in Iraq. Around half a million Christians have already fled the country in fear of their lives since the US-led invasion. Others may now well join the exodus as a result of Sunday’s massacre. They know that without a government to enforce law and order and the Americans on the way out there will probably be more attacks.
Horrified Americans will no doubt put the blame for this purely on Al-Qaeda. It is to blame, but so are they. Saddam Hussein’s regime (pictured) was a dictatorship but there was peace and harmony between Muslims and Christians. With the invasion, they opened a Pandora’s box. Sectarianism is one of its terrible results.
By Arab News.Com
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A senior archbishop in Iraq is to appeal to the Government against the death sentence served on Tariq Aziz, who played a key role in Saddam Hussein's regime.
Archbishop Georges Casmoussa of Mosul described the recent decision by the Iraqi Supreme Court in favour of the death sentence as "wrong", saying he will beg the country's President and Prime Minister to save the life of the 74-year-old former foreign minister and deputy prime minister.
Aziz, who is reported to be in extremely poor health, is convicted of persecuting religious parties and being involved in illegal executions.Speaking from northern Iraq on October 27, the Syrian Catholic archbishop told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need: "We have to form an international appeal to the Iraqi Government to reverse their decision concerning Tariq Aziz.
"I am ready to sign any document asking that the death sentence is not carried out."Archbishop Casmoussa outlined plans to call on Christians and Muslims across Mosul to sign a petition against the Supreme Court's decision concerning Aziz, who was a Catholic of the Chaldean rite.
The archbishop's intervention came barely 24 hours after the Vatican released a statement condemning the decision, reiterating the Church's long-held opposition to the death penalty.Archbishop Casmoussa went on to defend Tariq Aziz who was convicted of persecuting religious (Shi'a) Muslim communities and being involved in the execution of merchants accused of profiteering.
The Catholic Church has long upheld its opposition to the death penalty irrespective of the outcome of criminal investigations.The archbishop, who was speaking after returning to Iraq following the Rome Synod of Bishops on the Middle East, said he was likely to mount a campaign similar to one organised after the death sentence was passed against former defence minister Sultan Hashim Ahmad.
Noting how Ahmad was still alive three years on, Archbishop Casmoussa said: "For defence minister Sultan, the people of Mosul - Muslims and Christians alike - signed a petition asking the Prime Minister and President of Iraq to save his life."Tariq Aziz served as foreign minister during the First Gulf War (1990-01) and later as Deputy Prime Minister.Aziz surrendered to US troops in April 2003 soon after Baghdad was taken.
In March 2009, he was imprisoned for 15 years for the executions of 42 Iraqi merchants.Five months later, he was sentenced to a further seven years in jail for his role in the forced displacement of Kurds.In a statement, Vatican spokesman Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi wrote: "The position of the Catholic Church on the death penalty is known.
"Therefore it is truly to be hoped that the sentence against Tariq Aziz will not be carried out precisely in order to favour reconciliation and the reconstruction of peace and justice in Iraq after the great suffering it has undergone."Fr Lombardi said the Vatican might use diplomatic channels to intervene in the case.
By the Catholic leader
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A death sentence for former Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz is an effort to cover up Washington's interference in Iraqi affairs, a Russian official said.Aziz and two other members of the former regime of Saddam Hussein were sentenced to death last week for their role in the persecution of Shiites in the 1980s. The sentence sparked international calls for leniency, though Washington said the matter was an Iraqi affair.
Konstantin Kosachev, an international affairs official in the Russian parliament, said the sentencing, which came two days after the watchdog group WikiLeaks released sensitive Iraqi documents, painted an alarming picture.Konstantin Kosachev, an international affairs official in the Russian parliament, said the sentencing, which came two days after the watchdog group WikiLeaks released sensitive Iraqi documents, painted an alarming picture.
"The coincidence," he said, "is an attempt to draw the attention of the international community from the information that was published on the Internet," he was quoted by Russian's state-run news agency RIA Novosti as saying.Leonid Kalashnikov, a Communist lawmaker, said the death sentence was handed down because Aziz knew "too much about the period preceding the U.S. interfering in Iraqi affairs."Aziz, the highest-raking Christian in the Saddam regime, is in ill health after suffering a stroke earlier this year.
Though apparently unrelated, his sentence comes as members of the Christian community became targets of Iraq's al-Qaida organization.Iraqi militants seized the Our Lady of Deliverance church in Baghdad, a Roman Catholic facility, Sunday, taking about 120 people hostage. Iraqi anti-terror forces stormed the church Monday. Fifty-two people, including a Catholic priest, were killed in the resulting fighting.