Iraqi Christians seek safe haven
A spate of attacks targeting Christians in Iraq has forced many to flee to neighbouring Jordan which many see as a stepping stone to a new life as far away as possible from the violence-ridden country.
On Sundays families gather at the Syriac Orthodox church in Jordan's capital Amman to pray, socialise and mull over the best ways of securing a visa to enable them emigrate to the United States, Canada, Australia or Europe.
There are always new faces in the crowd, like Suzanne Jilliani, her husband Hani Daniel and their year-old baby who fled after the October 31 attack on Baghdad's Syriac Catholic cathedral that left 46 worshippers dead.
The couple, who now live in a furnished flat provided by the Syriac church in Jordan, dream of joining Jilliani's family in the United States.
"Do you think they will give us visas to go to the United States?" Jilliani asked a fellow Iraqi after a recent Sunday mass."Never," said Moayed, who declined to give his first name. "Try Canada. This is what I did."
Moayed said his request to travel to the United States was rejected because he had served in the army of executed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.Like some Christians, Moayed said he fled Iraq after being threatened by the Mahdi Army militia of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
Moayed managed a supermarket in Iraq but one day it blew up. He said it happened after the Mahdi Army had ordered him to pack up and leave the country because "there is no room here for Christians."
George Hazou, who heads a Syriac charity organisation in Jordan and is an official with the Middle East Council of Churches, estimates that 120,000 Iraqi Christians have fled to Jordan since the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.
"There are 40,000 to 50,000 Iraqis left in Jordan," he told AFP, adding that the rest have left to start new lives in North America, Australia and Europe.
Uday Hikmat worries about the future.
Three days after the church massacre he and his parents packed and left Iraq. "We did not want to wait our turn to die," said the 33-year-old.
Now he hopes that his birth certificate will serve as a central element in the documentation he needs to submit to secure an emigration visa.Fellow worshipper Mohannad Najem said Hikmat was "lucky" to have his birth certificate.
"Churches in Iraq no longer issue birth certificates in order to contain the exile of Christians," said Najem, a 33-year-old car mechanic who fled Iraq in October with his wife and four small children."The Mahdi Army told me I had to pay them 1,000 dollars each month or they would kill my children one by one."Two days after that threat we were gone," he said.
They got out 10 days before the massacre at the Baghdad Syriac cathedral where they worshipped on Sundays."We would probably be dead now," said Najem. His cousin Nadia and nephew Fadi were among the victims.
Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the church massacre and warned that it would step up attacks on Christians.Earlier this month a senior Iraqi clergyman said Iraq's Christians should leave the country or face being killed at the hands of Al-Qaeda.
"If they stay they will be finished, one by one," the London-based Archbishop Athanasios Dawood told the BBC.But Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said on November 9 that Christians should not be encouraged to leave their homeland.
An estimated 800,000 Christians lived in Iraq before the 2003 US-led invasion, but their number has since shrunk to around 500,000 in the face of repeated attacks against their community and churches.
Altogether an estimated two million refugees from Iraq, mostly Muslim, have fled to Jordan and Syria since the invasion.
By Randa Habib, AFP
Email This BlogThis! Share to Twitter Share to Facebook Share to Google Buzz 0 comments Muslims prevent attack on Christians
A Group of Iraqi Muslim people in northern Iraq’s Mosul city, have succeeded to prevent a group of terrorists from attacking a Christian family in Al-Bakr district, east of Mosul on Sunday, a Ninewa Province’s media source said on Monday.
“Ninewa’s Governor, Athel al-Nujeifi, was informed about the details of the incident of an attack against a Christian family in East Mosul’s al-Bakr district, during his visit to the area, which pointed out that (Muslim) citizens have deterred armed men and forced them to escape away from the district,” the source said.
He added that Ninewa Governor had “highly appreciated the attitude of the said people, who stood to the side of their Christian brothren and defended them, reaffirming Ninewa Province’s keenness to guarantee necessary protection for all minorities, including Christian brothren, reiterating necessity to protect Christians must also be by the people themselves, before the security bodies.”
A group armed men had broken through the Lady of Salvation Chruch in central Baghdad’s Karrada district last month, took several worshippers hostage, followed by an attack by security forces to liberate the hostages, thing that killed 58 people, including 5 of the attackers and 7 security elements, whilst the other victims had been from the hostages. The number of injured people had reached 75, including 15 army and police men.
Al-Qaeda Organization had announced responsibility for the attack on the Church, threatening to make Christians targets for fresh attacks.Mosul, the center of north Iraq’s Ninewa Province, is 405 kms to the north of Baghdad.
Ahlul Bayt News Agency
Email This BlogThis! Share to Twitter Share to Facebook Share to Google Buzz 0 comments Christian brothers shot dead
Two Iraqi Christian brothers were gunned down inside their vehicle workshop in the restive northern city of Mosul on Monday, police said.
Saad Hanna, 43, and Waad Hanna, 40, were shot dead at around noon (0900 GMT) in the city, 350 kilometres (220 miles) north of Baghdad, the latest in a spate of attacks targeting the minority community in Iraq.
"Two Syrian Catholic Christians were killed inside their workshop in an industrial area in west Mosul," said police Major Fathi Abdulrazzaq.Earlier this month, a series of bomb and mortar attacks targeted the homes and businesses of Christians in the capital Baghdad, killing six people and wounding 33 and drawing international condemnation.
Those attacks came less than two weeks after 44 Christian worshippers, two priests and seven security personnel died in the seizure of a Baghdad cathedral by Islamist gunmen and the ensuing shootout when it was stormed by troops.On November 3, Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the hostage-taking at the Syrian Catholic cathedral and warned it would step up attacks on Christians.
Between 800,000 and 1.2 million Christians lived in Iraq before the US-led invasion of 2003 but that number has since shrunk to around 500,000 in the face of repeated attacks against their community and churches.Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday spoke of his sense of solidarity towards Iraq's beleaguered Christian community, while issuing an appeal for religious freedom worldwide.
"Religious communities in Italy are praying today, at the request of their bishops, for the Christians who are suffering from persecution and discrimination, notably in Iraq," the pope said during his weekly Angelus prayer in St Peter's square.
Copyright © 2010 AFP
Email This BlogThis! Share to Twitter Share to Facebook Share to Google Buzz 0 comments Welfare funding runs out in Iraq
Iraq's parliament speaker says the oil-rich nation has run out of money to pay for widows' benefits, farm crops and other programs for the poor.
Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi told lawmakers Sunday that parliament would push the Iraqi government for answers on where the money has gone.
Irritated lawmakers demanded answers. Parliament members have each collected more than $100,000 so far this year in salaries and stipends, though they have only met four times since March amid the deadlock over forming a new government.
A Finance Ministry official said the estimated $1 billion social care budget has been emptied for 2010. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
BAGHDAD (AP) -- Iraq's lawmakers headed back to parliament Sunday for what was expected to be a lackluster session that won't address the key decisions on who will run the new government.
Instead, Iraq's 325 lawmakers were expected only to discuss internal parliamentary bylaws and forming legislative committees during the session that began in the early afternoon.It is only the fourth meeting of parliament since lawmakers were elected in March.
Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said it likely will be several more days before President Jalal Talabani formally asks Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to begin forming the new government and picking cabinet ministers.
A power-sharing agreement designed by Iraq's Kurdish leaders has assured that al-Maliki, a Shiite, will remain prime minister even though his State of Law political bloc did not win the most votes in the March 7 parliamentary vote.
A Sunni-backed but secular alliance known as Iraqiya won the most seats in the election, and its leader, Shiite former prime minister Ayad Allawi, worked bitterly against al-Maliki all summer to prevent him from forming a government.
Allawi was never able to gain enough support to put himself in the prime minister's office, however, and Iraqiya signed off on the power-sharing agreement.The agreement returns both al-Maliki and Talabani to power and gives Iraqiya the parliament speaker's post, which went to Sunni lawmaker Osama al-Nujaifi.
Allawi was meant to head a council that is intended to serve as a counterweight to al-Maliki, but he has said that he will not take a post in the new government, calling into question role of the council.Al-Dabbagh said Iraqiya has a "very important" role in the new government but did not know what Allawi intended to do.
"There are no positive signals from him," al-Dabbagh said.After Talabani officially asks al-Maliki to form the government, the prime minister has 30 days to assemble his cabinet -- a painstaking process in Iraq's complicated political map.
Lawmaker Bassem Sharif, a member of the Shiite Fadhila party that is allied with al-Maliki, said the blocs were still trying to decide how many minister's jobs are available -- and how to divvy them up among competing factions. The so-called sovereignty posts such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the Ministry of Oil are considered the most prestigious and powerful.
The Associated Press
Email This BlogThis! Share to Twitter Share to Facebook Share to Google Buzz 0 comments Iraq defaults on welfare payments
Iraq has run out of money to pay for widows' benefits, farm crops and other programmes for the poor, its parliament was told yesterday.
In only their fourth session since being elected in March, MPs demanded to know what happened to the estimated £625 million allocated for welfare funding by the finance ministry for 2010.
"We should ask the government where these allocations for widows' aid have gone," demanded Maha Adouri of Baghdad, one of the women who make up a quarter of the parliament's's 325 members.
"There are thousands of widows who did not receive financial aid for months."Another MP said farmers have not been paid for wheat and other crops they supplied the government for at least five months.
The cause of the shortfall was unclear, but officials have worried that the deadlock over forming a new government since March's inconclusive election ultimately would lead to funding shortages.
Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi promised that the parliament would push the Iraqi government for answers on where the money went.The MPs' eagerness to take up an issue dear to their constituents may have been aimed in part to reverse public scorn for their own lavish pay.
Despite being elected only a short time ago, MPs have continued to pull in salaries and allowances that reach £14,000 a month, as well as one-off perks such as free nights in Baghdad's finest hotel.
By LARA JAKES
Email This BlogThis! Share to Twitter Share to Facebook Share to Google Buzz 0 comments Wrongly deported to Baghdad
An Iranian who was mistakenly deported to Baghdad from the UK claims he endured beatings and starvation at the hands of Iraqi police officers.
The alleged mistreatment of Aland Salimi, 21, has emerged as the European court of human rights this week considers whether it is safe to resume deporting failed Iraqi asylum seekers to the Iraqi capital.
Deportations to Baghdad by the UK Border Agency (UKBA) have in effect been suspended until 24 November because of an upsurge in violence and attacks on Christian churches.
The office of the UN high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR) has also raised concerns about the conditions under which unsuccessful asylum seekers are forcibly returned to the Middle East.
The case of Salimi, an Iranian Kurd who came to Britain in 2007, illustrates the difficulties facing the immigration services. The UKBA says he consistently described himself as Iraqi during his application for asylum in the UK, in the hope of strengthening his chances of being accepted.
When Salimi was rejected and moves began to deport him to Baghdad, he started protesting that he was an Iranian, said the UKBA.
A letter was written to the immigration minister, Damian Green, pointing out his real nationality, but the fact that he had been through a screening interview by Iraqi officials in the UK and accepted by them to be Iraqi may have sealed his fate. On 6 September he was put on a flight with around 60 other failed asylum seekers.
"When we arrived at Baghdad airport, the Kurdish people did not want to be taken off the plane," Salimi told the Guardian. "The Iraqi police came on and shouted. They beat us with sticks. I told them I was Iranian. They didn't listen to me … The Iraqi police took me in a car to a prison and they started beating me again.
"They didn't give me food and they took the money in my pockets. I had no food or water for 24 hours. They said that Kurdish people 'make problems' and they would send me to Iran where Ahmadinejad [the Iranian president] would kill me. They were laughing. They also swore at me, shouted and threatened to hang me. They were Shia officers, while I'm Kurdish and a Sunni Muslim."
Salimi's solicitor in Cardiff, Sara Changkee, took a more detailed statement through a translator. "Aland says that when the Iraqi immigration officials came on to the plane he had squashed himself down [below the seats]," she said. "But they beat him with large wooden sticks and he became unconscious. He was taken to prison and beaten every day. Food and fluids were withheld. Somewhere along the line, the British embassy in Baghdad became involved." It then arranged to have Salimi flown back to the UK.
Dashty Jamal, of the International Federation of Iraqi Refugees, said the case showed that it was not safe to return failed asylum seekers to Baghdad. "European governments want to send people back to a war zone," he said.
The Iraqi embassy in London did not respond to inquires about the case. The Foreign Office, which returned Salimi to the UK, said in a letter to the European court that he described his experience in Baghdad as "torture". A second man, also wrongly deported to Iraq on 6 September and flown back to Britain at the same time, is thought to have been a Palestinian.
Asked why Salimi, an Iranian, had been sent to Iraq, Matthew Coats, head of immigration at the UKBA, said: "No documentary evidence has been submitted to the UK Border Agency to support his claim to be an Iranian national and an Iraqi ID card was submitted with his original claim.
"Only at the point of his detention in order to facilitate his removal from the United Kingdom did [Salimi] claim to be an Iranian national. He had asserted from his first encounter with the UK Border Agency that he was Kurdish and originated from the Dukan area of Sulaymania in northern Iraq. He maintained his claim to be an Iraqi national throughout the appeal process, most recently at an appeal hearing before an immigration judge earlier this year, which was dismissed."
Asked about reports of violence on the plane, Coats said: "The UK Border Agency continues to look into these allegations. Senior UK Border Agency officials on the flight did not witness any mistreatment by escorting staff or Iraqi officials. We take any allegations of mistreatment of returnees by UK Border Agency staff, their representatives, or receiving authorities, extremely seriously and they are thoroughly investigated."