Wednesday, May 5, 2010

054. Iraq: Christians Under Siege

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 054 | Wed 05 May 2010

IRAQ: CHRISTIANS UNDER SIEGE

Iraq's last official census (1987) counted 1.4 million indigenous Assyrian and Chaldean Christians. As Islamic zeal and Arab nationalism rose in the wake of Gulf War 1 (1991), Christians with means emigrated. By the time of the March 2003 US invasion, the Christian population of Iraq was estimated at between 1.2 million and 800,000. Today, after seven years of war, sectarian conflict and ethnic-religious cleansing, a remnant of some 400,000 Christians remains. The Shi'ite south has been virtually 'cleansed' of Christians and few remain in the Sunni-dominated centre. Christians now live mostly in the north: in the historic Assyrian homeland of the Nineveh Plains, a fault-line region between the Arabs (who invaded up from Arabia in the 7th Century) and the Kurds (who invaded down from Turkey in the 14th Century). Terrorism targeting Mosul's churches and Christians has escalated ever since the US 'surge' forced al-Qaeda elements out of the central provinces of Anbar, Baghdad and Diyala to relocate north. Christian families continue to flee Mosul in large numbers. Those still there report being intimidated and harassed with threatening phone calls and letters. Many Christian women have taken to wearing the hijab to hide their Christian identity.

Christians are so endangered in Northern Iraq that Christian students must travel to university in convoys with Iraqi military escorts. On Sunday morning 2 May two bombs ripped through a convoy of buses transporting Christian college students from the mainly Christian town of Hamdaniya, 40km east of Mosul in the Nineveh Plains region of Northern Iraq, to the University of Mosul. According to reports, once the first buses had passed through the Kokjali checkpoint (manned by US, Iraqi and Kurdish soldiers) a car bomb parked on the shoulder of the highway exploded in their path, followed moments later by a roadside bomb. A local shopkeeper was killed and more than 100 people were wounded (17 critically) including some 70 of the targeted Christian college students.

Jamil Salahuddin Jamil (25), a geography major on the first bus, told reporters one of his classmates lost her leg in the attack and two others were blinded. 'We were going for our education and they presented us with bombs,' he said. 'I still do not know what they want from Christians.' Of course Jamil knows exactly what the Islamic terrorists and the Muslim fundamentalists who support them want from Christians: he just can't bear to contemplate it let alone verbalise it. What they want is Christians to be driven out of Iraq and those remaining to be 'utterly subdued' (Qur'an, Sura 9:29).

Despite the desperate pleas of church leaders, Iraqi Christian refugees are reluctant to return. Speaking in Damascus, Syria, Christian refugee Toma Georgees told CNS (23 April 2010): 'It's . . . impossible to turn back to Iraq. Our problem is not with the Iraqi government. Our problem is with Iraqi people . . . who want to kill us, who want to kill all the Christians.' In the early 1950s Iraq's more than 120,000-strong ancient Jewish community -- which dated back to the Babylonian captivity and had come to comprise the elite of Baghdad -- was eradicated. Now it appears it is the turn of the indigenous Assyrian and Chaldean Christians.

When it erupts -- as it eventually will -- the battle for fault-line Nineveh and oil-rich Kirkuk will engulf northern Iraq and draw in regional players. Meanwhile the dark smoke of sectarianism is rising again out of the volcano that is Baghdad. When ethnic and sectarian conflict resumes -- as it eventually will -- the Christians will lose the state protection they presently have. The future of Iraq is bleak indeed.

WE PRAY THAT OUR SOVEREIGN AND MERCIFUL GOD WILL:

* assist Christian families fleeing for refuge and protect those staying. 'Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen. You led your people like a flock . . . .' (Psalm 77:19,20a ESV.)

Lead and protect your people again, O Lord our Saviour (Psalm 17:7), Good Shepherd (Psalm 23) and Rock (Psalm 18). 'Show the wonder of your great love, you who save by your right hand those who take refuge in you from their foes.' (Psalm 17:7 NIV.)

* open up places of refuge for Iraq's Assyrian-Chaldean Christians who have lost so much, including homeland and loved ones; may he mend their broken hearts, heal their pain and in his grace grant them peace, hope, friendships and bright futures amongst God's people in other lands.

* open the eyes and minds of many Iraqi Muslims to recognise the superiority of the Gospel and then open their hearts to receive it. 'For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.' (Ephesians 2:8,9 ESV.)

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CHRISTIANS IN IRAQ UNDER SIEGE

Iraq's more than 120,000-strong ancient Jewish community was eradicated in the early 1950s. Now it appears Iraq's indigenous Assyrian-Chaldean Christians may suffer the same fate. After seven years of insecurity and ethnic-religious cleansing, few Christians remain in the south and the centre. Iraq's remnant Assyrian-Chaldean Christians live mostly in the historic Assyrian homeland: the Nineveh Plains of Northern Iraq. Even there Christians are under siege and so endangered that Christian students must travel to university in convoys under Iraqi military escort. On 2 May two bombs ripped through the buses transporting Christian students to the University of Mosul. Around 70 were wounded, some critically. Islamic terrorists and the Muslim fundamentalists supporting them aim to drive Christians from Iraq. Please pray for Iraq and its Christians.