Tuesday, May 28, 2013

RLPB 212. May Update. Incl. Sudan, CAR, LRA, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 212 | Wed 29 May 2013

By Elizabeth Kendal

ATTENTION Canberra, Australia.
Elizabeth Kendal: Symposium on the Persecution of Christians in the 21st Century: Analysis of global trends and the Biblical response to a confronting reality. Saturday 29 June 2013 from 7p.m. at the Canberra House of Prayer for All Nations, 28 Guilfoyle Street, Yarralumla. Supper included. RSVP 25 June 2013 admin@cffreedom.org

'O you who hear prayer, to you shall all flesh come.' (Psalm 65:2 ESV) May men, women and children everywhere bring their prayers to the Lord, for only he can 'still . . . the tumult of the peoples' (v7). 'All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you.' (Psalm 22:27 ESV) Lord, hasten the day!


MAY 2013 UPDATE -- During May we prayed concerning . . . 

* IRAQ (RLPB 208), where sectarian (Sunni vs Shi'ite) and ethnic (Kurd vs Arab) tensions are escalating along with violence, threatening the tenuous peace and attracting al-Qaeda elements, heightening the risk to Iraq's Christian remnant.

* SUDAN (RLPB 209), where systematic repression and persecution are escalating in line with social disaffection and rebel advances. The fighting between the Islamist, Arab-supremacist regime in Khartoum and the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) -- an alliance of rebel forces fighting for a secular, democratic state -- is deadlocked. Meanwhile, the regime continues to bomb civilians and block humanitarian aid. Continue to pray for a breakthrough.

UPDATE: On 18 May Sudan's defence minister Abdel-Rahim Hussein addressed troops being deployed to the war zones. He declared that the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) will continue their 'holy crawl' until they have annihilated all rebellion from the country, i.e. until they have killed or subjugated all who resist Khartoum's racist policies and forced Islamisation. Meanwhile, the SRF has called on the citizens of Khartoum to join a popular uprising and topple the ruling regime. They are also appealing to members of the SAF to 'stand alongside the people, rather than defend tyrants'. In response, the regime reportedly has been distributing weapons to citizens, calling on them to fight the SRF. Pray for the Church in this dangerous, volatile environment. May the Lord liberate Sudan. (Psalm 10)

* CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC (CAR) (RLPB 2010), where Arabic-speaking Muslim rebels with many foreign jihadis in their ranks have seized control of this French-speaking predominantly Christian state. The coup has all the hallmarks of being a foreign backed and funded operation to effect regime change.

UPDATE: The rebels are restless and not united. Many have protested that while they are hungry and homeless, rebel leader and self-proclaimed president Michel Djotodia has taken up residence in the Hotel Ledger Plaza, a five-star luxury hotel. Pray that the rebels -- who continue to kill civilians at will -- will splinter and the rebellion will collapse. Meanwhile, Church leaders in CAR lament that the world is more interested in the plight of CAR's elephants (with dozens massacred by rebels) than the plight of the civilian population who are bearing the brunt of the crisis. An Italian Carmelite monk warned Aid to the Church in Need that CAR was at risk 'of being left to its own devices and of becoming a hell on earth'.  Pray for the Church in CAR.

* CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC (CAR) (RLPB 2011) and the threat of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).

UPDATE: Uganda's Amnesty Act 2000 was due to expire on 24 May 2013. However, religious leaders from northern Uganda petitioned the parliament and on 15 May the Ugandan government extended the Amnesty Act for another two years. The Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative expressed profound gratitude, though there are some complications that will need to be resolved. Most LRA soldiers were kidnapped as children and desire to return home; fear, mostly implanted by Kony, dissuades them. Pray for mass defections and that God, by his own hand, will bring an end to LRA leader Joseph Kony.


MAY 2013 ROUND-UP -- also this month . . .

* IRAN: REGIME TARGETS FARSI CHURCH

Middle East Concern (MEC) reports that on 21 May Pastor Robert Asserian of the Assemblies of God (AoG) church in Tehran was arrested while leading a prayer meeting at the church. Earlier all his computer equipment and books were confiscated. Pastor Robert is now incarcerated in Tehran's Evin Prison. After months of intensive pressure, the AoG church in Tehran has now closed. The AoG church in Ahvaz has been closed since December 2011. On 1 May 2013 its pastor, Farhad, his wife Shahnaz, and two members, Davoud and Naser, began a one-year prison sentence. MEC reports: 'The authorities have made clear that they will consider releasing these four and Pastor Robert if the AoG agrees to cease all services in Farsi.' The authorities simply do not want Iranian Muslims hearing the gospel in their own language. May God confound the regime's every effort! On 8 May Pastor Saeed Abedini, a US citizen in Evin Prison, was released from solitary confinement and returned to the general prison population. Saeed's wife, Naghmeh, told Voice of the Martyrs how Saeed experienced God's presence in that 'small dark hole'. [For details see: The Promised Presence] Several imprisoned believers are in dire need of medical attention. Pray for Iran's imprisoned Christians. Pray for the Church in Iran.

* SAUDI ARABIA: TWO BELIEVERS IMPRISONED OVER CONVERSION (Updating RLPB 175, 4 Sep 2012.)

In July 2012 Maryam (28), a Saudi convert to Christianity, fled the country. Subsequently, her employer, Henna Sarkees (51), a Christian Lebanese national, was charged with abusing his position by coercing her to convert. Also, an un-named Saudi national was charged with facilitating Maryam's flight from the country. On 11 May 2013 Al-Khobar District Court sentenced Sarkees to six years in prison and 300 lashes for the crime of 'evangelism' (Lebanese media) or 'brainwashing' (Saudi media). The Saudi national was sentenced to two years in prison and 200 lashes. Lawyers for both men say they will appeal. However, Maryam's Muslim father has rejected the ruling as inadequate. He too will appeal, saying, 'We will ask the court to keep him [Sarkees] behind bars until our daughter comes home.' Pray for Maryam, Henna Sarkees and the Saudi national. Pray for the growing but perpetually imperilled Saudi Church.

* SYRIA: CONFLICT SET TO ESCALATE; CHRISTIANS STRUGGLING

On Tuesday 28 May France and the UK convinced the European Union (EU) to let its arms embargo on Syria lapse. So, while Russia and the US are trying to organise peace talks in the hope of finding a political path to peace, France and the UK will be free to pump more weapons into the jihad (which, it might be noted, is blowing back into Iraq). The decision will fuel escalation. (Background: RLM: Syria) Meanwhile, sources in Aleppo report that rebels are blockading government-held areas so that food cannot get in unless enormous 'taxes' are paid. Christians are kidnapped almost every day. Bishop Yohanna Ibrahim, head of the Syriac Orthodox Church in Aleppo, and Bishop Boulos Yaziji, head of the Greek Orthodox Church in Aleppo, were kidnapped by Chechen jihadists on 22 April. They remain in captivity. No group has claimed responsibility and no ransom demand has been made. Whilst a spokesman for the opposition's National Coalition maintains that the bishops are in 'good health', nobody has been permitted to have even phone contact with them.  Pray for the Church in Syria.

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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today
(Deror Books, Dec 2012)

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

RLPB 211. Central African Republic (CAR): threat of the LRA

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 211 | Wed 22 May 2013

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC (CAR): THREAT OF THE LRA

By Elizabeth Kendal

As reported in last week's RLPB 210, a rebel army known as Seleka ('alliance') has seized control of Central African Republic. What international media and human rights organisations are failing to acknowledge is that while CAR is French-speaking and 76 percent Christian, the supposedly poor and marginalised yet exceedingly well-armed rebels are Arabic-speaking Muslims with many foreign jihadis in their ranks. While France (the colonial power) refused to aid the government -- something that triggered angry protests outside the French Embassy in Bangui -- French soldiers are now patrolling the streets at the behest of the rebels. Targeted attacks against churches and religious workers have led church leaders to question Seleka's intentions. Many other questions remain unanswered too, such as: 'Who backed this regime change and why?'

As if this were not bad enough, another threat hangs over the Christians of CAR: the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). The LRA is a Ugandan rebel militia that emerged to wreak terror in Uganda's impoverished and marginalised north in the 1980s. However, when the Islamic regime in Sudan started sponsoring it, LRA activities expanded to fighting all of Khartoum's 'enemies', such as Uganda and its allies in southern Sudan. LRA terror escalated markedly in late 2002 such that, in May 2003, this prayer ministry (then under the auspices of WEA RLC) launched an international prayer campaign, triggering an intensive spiritual battle.  The first call to prayer (RLP 219) went out on 14 May 2003. This was immediately followed by an unprecedented mass of defections from the LRA to the Acholi Religious Leaders' Peace Initiative.  Kony responded on 14 June 2003 by ordering his troops to 'kill all clergy'. An urgent call to prayer was immediately issued, that God would 'bind all the demonic spirits allied with Joseph Kony and the LRA, to keep drawing defectors from all ranks of the LRA, and to effect the escape and rescue of hundreds of abducted children.' We prayed also for God to protect and bless all 'clergy, nuns, and Christian workers, especially those in front-line danger.' (RLP 224, 17 June 2003 (includes 18 months of updates)). To each request, God answered, "Yes!" Over the next 12-18 months, intercessors continued to battle against the LRA. Eventually the group was so decimated that violence had subsided greatly and redevelopment had begun.

But the LRA was not dead! Now just a band of some 200 fighters, the LRA still conducts hit and run raids, usually just for food, rarely to kidnap, but sometimes just to kill. In recent years the LRA has moved its operations into northern Congo and CAR. In February 2010 they killed two and wounded many others in an attack on a church in the southern CAR town of Rafai.  Today the LRA has sanctuary in Sudan's contested territory of Kafia Kingi in southern Darfur bordering north-east CAR. In October 2011 US Special Operations troops entered CAR to assist African troops in the hunt for LRA leader, Joseph Kony, a former Catholic altar-boy turned blood-thirsty spirit medium. The Seleka coup has brought that to a halt. Analysts fear the chaos and insecurity in CAR will work to the LRA's advantage, enabling it to re-group and replenish supplies. The LRA has weapons from Sudan, but what they need is children. According to Voice of America, the US is now waiting to see 'how Seleka might pursue Kony'. One of the problems with the hunt for Kony has been the militarisation of large regions where soldiers tend to abuse civilians just as much as the LRA does! Because the hunt is so profoundly fruitless -- Kony has been a wanted man for some 30 years -- it well may be that the thousands of soldiers being paid to hunt Kony believe it is not in their economic interests to find him. If the US brokers a deal with Seleka on the pretext that Seleka rebels will 'pursue Kony' -- maybe even arming and funding them to do so -- then the threat to the Church will only be multiplied. The Church in CAR desperately needs our prayers.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT --

* God will confuse and confound the rebels to bring down their illegitimate rule and end their reign of terror.

* the Lord of justice will liberate Bangui, restore security to CAR and raise up Godly leadership for the nation.

'He [the wicked] makes a pit, digging it out, and falls into the hole that he has made. His mischief returns upon his own head, and on his own skull his violence descends.' (Psalm 7:15,16 ESV. See also Psalm 57:6.)

* the Holy Spirit will revive the Church in CAR, awakening her faith to fuel prayer. (While she may not have any allies amongst the nations, she does have an ally in Yahweh Sabaoth, the Lord of hosts! See Isaiah 40:10.)

* the Lord will so shield all CAR's children and all CAR's families (Isaiah 40:11) that they will know the Lord of justice is there for them; may their faith be multiplied.

* the Lord will bind the demonic forces that empower Joseph Kony (Matthew 18:18); may the Lord of Hosts bring an end to Joseph Kony and may all the world know that God alone has done it! (Isaiah 37:20)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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THREAT OF THE LRA IN CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC

Christians in Central African Republic (CAR) are at risk from the rebel army, Seleka, and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). LRA is an occultic militia with sanctuary in southern Darfur, Sudan, and now believed to be in CAR. Whilst the LRA has been severely diminished and reduced to scavenging, the chaos in CAR could provide it with an opportunity to re-group and also kidnap children to use as soldiers and sex-slaves. LRA leader, Joseph Kony, is a blood-thirsty spirit medium. Amazingly, over 30 years, Ugandan, South Sudanese, Congolese, CAR and US troops have all failed to find him! May the Lord liberate CAR from Seleka, protect CAR's children from the LRA, bring down Joseph Kony, and raise up Godly leadership for CAR. Please pray for the Church in CAR.

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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah speaks to Christians today
(Deror Books, Dec 2012)

Monday, May 13, 2013

RLPB 210. Central African Republic (CAR): Seized by Muslim Rebels

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 210 | Wed 15 May 2013

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC (CAR): SEIZED BY MUSLIM REBELS

By Elizabeth Kendal

As the rebel army, Seleka, advanced towards Bangui, the capital of Central African Republic (CAR), CAR President François Bozizé appealed to France (the colonial power) and the US for help. However, this was to no avail, even though French troops were already in the country. Desperate for support, Bozizé appealed to South African president Jacob Zuma, who did send troops. But on 23 March, after fierce fighting, Seleka defeated the South African Defence Force, paving the way for the rebels to enter Bangui on Sunday 24 March unhindered. Seleka then embarked on a campaign of raping, killing, looting and pillaging. Micopax, the European Union-funded peace-keeping force in CAR, has made no effort to engage the rebels. International Crisis Group (ICG) finds this 'disturbing' and wonders if Micopax has been instructed to stand aside. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), 'One of the first targets was the Bangui Cathedral, where Seleka rebels entered the church, fired in the air, and robbed the worshippers.' Something HRW and ICG both fail to mention is that whereas CAR is a French-speaking, mostly Christian country (76 percent Christian according to Operation World), the rebels who have seized power are Arabic-speaking Muslims.

The rebels, who claim to be liberating CAR from the dictator Bozizé, hail from the Vakaga district, a poor, remote north-east region of CAR bordering Chad and Sudan. Vakaga is the only part of the CAR where Arabic is the common language and Islam the dominant religion. Despite their poverty, the rebels entered Bangui wearing brand new military uniforms, driving brand new pickups and brandishing brand new weapons. Amongst them were janjaweed (gunmen) from Darfur, Sudan, and jihadis from Mali and Northern Nigeria. In a FIDES press release, Church leaders in CAR denounce 'a rebellion characterised by religious extremism'. They describe a systematic and 'planned desecration and destruction of religious Christian buildings, and in particular the Catholic and Protestant churches'. They lament the heavy price the Church is paying, with churches destroyed and 'priests and religious women' attacked.

Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalainga has written a courageous letter to the self-proclaimed new president, rebel leader Michel Djotodia, listing Seleka's crimes: 'threats, terror, and psychological torture . . . rape of young girls and women, some of whom have committed suicide [and] recruitment of child soldiers'. Observing that Seleka consists 'largely of foreign Muslims and some from the nation', the prelate notes that 'the Muslim population [in Bangui] was largely spared looting', and asks, 'What are the real intentions of this movement against our Christian institutions?' According to one missionary's blog, hospitals and charities have all been looted. 'Rebels do not save anybody or anything,' she writes, 'except for mosques and Muslim traders, who buy the stolen property from them.'

The questions arising out of this crisis are enormous and ugly. Who is funding and equipping Seleka and with what aim? Why did France not intervene in CAR, when it intervened in Ivory Coast (to support Islamic rebels) and in Mali (to fight Islamic rebels)?  Why is the US refusing to send aid? Why did the EU-funded Micopax not protect CAR civilians as it is paid to do? In early 2011, Ivory Coast's president Laurent Gbagbo -- who believed in advancing African rather than Western interests -- found himself the victim of regime change at the hands of Islamic forces backed by Western powers pursuing Western 'interests'. Could the same be happening in CAR? President Bozizé had recently signed oil concessions over to Chinese and South African companies. Soon after proclaiming himself president, rebel leader Michel Djotodia promised to 'sort out' CAR's mining and oil contracts. If these contracts are handed to Western powers, then we will have most of our answers. Meanwhile, Seleka has seized control of CAR's extensive diamond industry. The global body of Christ must stand united, demanding truth -- no matter how unpalatable -- and justice. She must speak up for the Church in CAR and remember them in prayer as they have to navigate this crisis.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT --


* God will shine light into the darkness so that truth will be revealed; may the Lord himself bring justice, righteousness and liberty to CAR. (Habakkuk 2:6b-14)

'The Lord looks down from heaven and sees the whole human race. From his throne he observes all who live on the earth. He made their hearts, so he understands everything they do.' (Psalm 33:13-15 NLT) 

* the body of Christ in the world will stand as one against greed, megalomania, violence, deceit, repression and all manner of evil presently at work in CAR. 'The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.' (John 1:5 ESV)

* the Holy Spirit will draw CAR's Christians to himself, gracing them with faith and prayer, comfort and peace. May he bless, protect and sustain all those who put their faith in him. (Romans 8:31-39)


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MUSLIM REBELS SEIZE CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC


On 24 March a rebel army named Seleka seized control of Bangui, capital of Central African Republic (CAR), in an orgy of killing, raping and looting. The rebels are from the Vakaga district, a poor, remote north-east region of CAR bordering Chad and Sudan. Whilst CAR is French-speaking and 76 percent Christian, Vakaga is Arabic-speaking and Muslim. The 'poor' rebels are very well armed and amongst them are gunmen from Darfur, Sudan, and jihadis from Mali and Northern Nigeria. Churches have been destroyed and looted and Christian workers attacked, while the Muslim community of Bangui has been spared. Rebel leader Michel Djotodia has proclaimed himself president. EU peacekeepers did not engage the rebels. French forces (though present) and the US refused to help. Please pray for the Church in CAR.
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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah speaks to Christians today
(Deror Books, Dec 2012)

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

RLPB 209. Sudan: repression escalates as rebels advance

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 209 | Wed 08 May 2013

REMINDER: Symposium - 'Confronting Persecution in the 21st Century'.
Wed 15 May from 7pm at Glen Waverley Anglican Church, Melbourne, Australia.

SUDAN: REPRESSION ESCALATES AS REBELS ADVANCE
By Elizabeth Kendal

The Arab-supremacist, Islamist regime in Khartoum, Sudan, has been escalating its campaign of systematic persecution against the Church since at least April of 2012. Also targeted are 'Southerners' (predominantly Christian Africans from South Sudan) and 'blacks' (predominantly Christian Africans from Sudan's Nuba Mountains). The persecution appears aimed at driving Christians and non-Arabs out of Sudan, or at least out of Khartoum and its twin city Omdurman. Christian ministries (including schools) have been closed and their foreign staff deported. Morning Star News reports that in February, National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) officials arrested staff members of a university campus ministry. After interrogating them for a week, confiscating everything of value and deporting three members to South Sudan, the NISS released the believers who were ordered to report weekly. The officers also threatened the Christians, saying they would be 'buried alive' if they fail to provide information about who is supporting Christian activities in Sudan. On 17 April 2013 Sudan's Minister of Guidance and Endowments, Al-Fatih Taj El-sir, announced that no new licences for building churches will be issued on the grounds that new churches are not needed as Christians are leaving and churches are closing.

The escalating persecution coincides with the mounting pressure being felt by the regime. This is due to economic stress and widespread disaffection, and with military gains being made by rebel forces. The Sudan People's Liberation Movement - North (SPLM-N) has made great gains in South Kordofan and now holds most of the Nuba Mountains. Meanwhile, rebels in Darfur have made great gains in south Darfur.  Led by the SPLM-N, the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) is an alliance of rebel forces fighting for a new constitution and a government of national unity in an inclusive, secular, democratic state, much along the lines of the 'New Sudan' vision that Southern leader Dr John Garang had championed. Formed in November 2011, the SRF has gone from strength to strength. (See RLPB 148, 28 Feb 2012, for important background.) Recently the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) from Darfur dropped its demand for Sharia Law in Darfur, embraced the national agenda and joined the alliance. On 27 April 2013 the expanded SRF fought as a united front under a single command to seize territory in North Kordofan -- just 480km from Khartoum and 100km from a government airbase -- and hold it for several hours. According to SPLM-N Secretary General Yassir Arman (a close aide of the late Dr John Garang), this is now 'a fully-fledged war'

Though the rebels are talking about entering Khartoum, that is unlikely. Even if they did enter Khartoum, they most certainly could not hold it. However, they don't need to take Khartoum to paralyse the government as they only need to hold South Kordofan, where Sudan's last remaining oil reserves are located. But while the SRF is strong -- and getting stronger as nomadic tribal Arabs and Muslim Africans defect from Khartoum to support the SRF -- the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) have probably double the number of troops as well as air power and political control at the centre. The most likely scenario is a 'vicious deadlock'. Meanwhile, the regime is employing its well-worn strategy of targeting civilian populations suspected of supporting the rebels. Some 700,000 have been displaced by Khartoum's aerial bombardments and the 436,000 who are displaced within rebel-held areas are facing famine due to the regime's aid blockade. Whilst devastating to civilians, the stalemate -- the fact that Khartoum cannot win -- could pave the way for negotiations where the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) could be re-addressed. This would be especially likely if pressure is brought to bear from outside, something the West -- to its shame -- has been unwilling to do.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT --

* God will 'break' the regime's power (Psalm 10:15); may Arab Sudanese decide they are sick of war; may support for the regime drain away; may political and military defections increase; may the regime be forced to negotiate; may the 'New Sudan' vision of a united, diverse, inclusive, secular and free Sudan be embraced even in the heart of Khartoum (which would be a miracle).

'The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.' (Proverbs 21:1 ESV)

* the Church will know the sustaining power and comforting presence of the Holy Spirit of God; may she stand firm, growing in faith and numerically despite the opposition she faces; may her righteousness and grace bear witness to the truth of the Gospel.   

'And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.' (Romans 8:28 ESV)

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REPRESSION ESCALATES IN SUDAN AS REBELS ADVANCE


Persecution is escalating in Sudan, especially in Khartoum and its twin city Omdurman, as the racist, Islamist regime continues its campaign of intimidation, ministry closures, deportations and media disinformation along with impunity for persecutors. This coincides with escalating economic and social woes and military advances by rebel forces. The Sudan People's Liberation Movement - North (SPLM-N) has made great gains in South Kordofan, now holding most of the Nuba Mountains. An alliance of rebel forces led by the SPLM-N is fighting for an inclusive, secular state and recently seized territory in North Kordofan only 480 km from Khartoum. The regime is fighting back by bombing civilians and denying international food aid entry to rebel-held areas. Please pray that God will liberate Sudan and bless his Church.

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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah speaks to Christians today
(Deror Books, Dec 2012)

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

RLPB 208. IRAQ: Danger as sectarian war looms

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 208 | Wed 01 May 2013

IRAQ: DANGER AS SECTARIAN WAR LOOMS
By Elizabeth Kendal

The last US troops left Iraq on Sunday morning 18 December 2011. Ahead of that day, this prayer ministry issued a call to prayer which now provides essential background to today's reality. 
See IRAQ: PROPAGANDA VERSUS REALITY
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 138 | Wed 14 Dec 2011

As soon as the US vacated Iraq, al-Qaeda in Iraq got to work, regrouping and rebuilding. It also developed a potent fighting force inside Syria: the Al-Nusrah Front which is currently leading the rebel forces in the battle for Syria.

On Tuesday 23 April at 5 am the Shi'ite dominated Iraqi security forces raided a Sunni protest camp in the northern city of al-Hawijah in Kirkuk province. For months, some 4000 Sunnis have been protesting in the streets, calling for Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki's resignation. They accuse the Shi'ite-dominated government of persecuting the Sunni community and detaining Sunni civilians on spurious accusations of involvement in terrorism. Many believe Maliki, a Shia, is seeking to bolster his Shia credentials for political gain in the face of rising Shi'ite opposition, particularly from the Sadrist Movement of radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. More than 50 Sunni protesters were killed, dozens wounded and around 400 arrested in the al-Hawijah raid. Predictably this has compounded Sunni anger. In Fallujah, some 1000 Sunnis took to the streets after calls of 'War' were broadcast from mosques. In Ramadi, the capital of Sunni Anbar Province, Sunnis rioted, attacking Iraqi military vehicles and personnel. The regime responded by resorting to extreme military violence, including the use of attack helicopters. By Friday 26 April at least 215 people (mostly Sunni civilians) were dead, with hundreds more wounded. Al-Maliki claims the protests are part of a foreign-backed conspiracy. [Maliki, an ally of Iran, has been letting Iran run flights into Syria via Iraqi airspace -- about which the US has protested.]

Enraged by the massacre, Sunni tribes across central Iraq are joining forces and arming to fight the Shi'ite-dominated government. These include the 'Awakening' (Al-Sahwa) militias, whose leaders in Anbar Province have announced the formation of the 'Army of Pride and Dignity'. Its task is to protect the Sunni province from the US-backed, Shi'ite-dominated, Iran-allied government. If Maliki cannot pacify the Sunnis, their anger could pave the way for an alliance between former enemies: US-backed 'Awakening' and a revived al-Qaeda. On Monday 29 April car bombs exploded in four Shi'ite districts south of Baghdad, killing more than 30 people.

Meanwhile, it appears the Kurds are exploiting the chaos to make a move on the oil-fields of Kirkuk. Erbil, capital of the Kurdish province, has deployed 'peshmerger' Kurdish troops to Kirkuk, claiming they are simply filling a security vacuum. However, Baghdad sees this move as a 'dangerous development' in violation of agreements.

This RLPB ministry has long maintained that the real war for Iraq would not begin until after US troop departed and that 'the mother of all battles' would be fought over control of Kirkuk. The coming war will pit Sunnis vs Shi'ites; Kurds vs Turks vs Arabs; federalists vs centralists; nationalists vs international jihadis; anti-government vs pro-government forces and alliances; Iran vs Saudi Arabia; international jihadis vs everyone else; and probably more. (This is just as in Syria, but possibly worse!) Underneath it all, the region's indigenous, long-suffering, besieged, remnant Christians will be victims of every contest, targeted by all forces.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT ---

* our holy, just and sovereign God will be powerfully at work amidst the chaos, advancing his purpose and glory.
 
* the Lord of Hosts will bring down all that is false and destroy all repressive systems so that God alone will be exalted and healing faith might bloom in freedom. (Isaiah 2:10-21)

* our Lord Jesus Christ will comfort, encourage and sustain his faithful ones, covering them with his hand, gathering them in his arms, fighting for them, supplying their needs and fuelling their faith.

'. . . that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.' (From Isaiah 61:3 ESV.)

* God will awaken the Church throughout the world to the reality of the looming genocide of some of the world's most ancient Christian communities, from Antioch to Nineveh -- our spiritual heritage.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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DANGER AS SECTARIAN WAR LOOMS IN IRAQ


On Tuesday 23 April at 5 am Shi'ite-dominated Iraqi security forces raided a Sunni protest camp in the northern city of al-Hawijah, Kirkuk Province. More than 50 protesters were killed, dozens were wounded and hundreds arrested. Sunnis, who have been protesting persecution under the Shi'ite-dominated Maliki government, were outraged. As riots erupted, government violence escalated and by Friday 26 April at least 215 people (mostly Sunni civilians) had been massacred. Sunnis are now uniting and arming to fight the government. Al-Qaeda, now revived in Syria, will doubtless seek a comeback in Iraq. Meanwhile, Kurdish forces have moved into oil-rich Kirkuk in violation of agreements with Baghdad. An ethnic-political-sectarian war looms, in which Iraq's long-suffering, besieged, remnant Christians will be exceedingly vulnerable. Please pray for them, and for the region.

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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah speaks to Christians today
(Deror Books, Dec 2012)