Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq by United States led forces the situation of the Christian community in that nation has become very dire. The Christian community in Iraq is one of the oldest in the Church and yet today the community is on the brink of being non-existent with many members fleeing the country in a search for safety. Although in no way connected with the invasion of their country, Christians in Iraq have become equated in the minds of Muslim extremists with the invaders and therefore have become the target of acts of violence and of prejudice.
During this season when we await the coming of the Prince of Peace please remember our Christian brothers and sisters in Iraq and their beautiful and ancient community. Please pray for peace among all peoples in that land and that any form of violence in the name of God cease and be recognized as a sin offensive to God, the Creator of all peoples.
Below are two articles related to the situation of the Christian community in Iraq. The first is written by Barbara Surk of the Associated Press (Nov. 2, 2010) and it tells the story of the devastating terrorist attack against Christians during Mass at Our Lady of Salvation Catholic Church. The attack left 58 persons dead and 78 wounded. The second article is from Zenit.com and it tells of an initiative to work to protect all religious minorities in Iraq.
Militants stage deadliest attack on Iraqi Christians
Despite rescue attempt, 58 die at Baghdad church
By Barbara Surk
Associated Press / November 2, 2010
Iraq’s dwindling Christian community was grieving and afraid yesterday after militants seized a Baghdad church during evening Mass, held the congregation hostage, and triggered a raid by Iraqi security forces. The bloodbath left at least 58 people dead and 78 wounded — nearly everyone inside.
The attack, claimed by an organization linked to Al Qaeda, was the deadliest ever recorded against Iraq’s Christians, whose numbers have plummeted since the 2003 US-led invasion as the community has fled to other countries.
Outside Our Lady of Salvation church, Raed Hadi leaned against the car carrying his cousin’s coffin, waiting for the police to let him bury him on church grounds. “We Christians don’t have enough protection,’’ he said. “What shall I do now? Leave and ask for asylum?’’
Pope Benedict XVI denounced the assault as “ferocious’’ and called for renewed international efforts to broker peace in the region.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki also condemned the siege, saying it was an attempt to drive more Christians out of the country.
Islamic militants have systematically attacked Christians in Iraq since the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime, effectively chasing more than 1 million people out of the country, according to estimates from an adviser to Iraq’s top Catholic prelate, Chaldean Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly.
In an interview, the cardinal encouraged the country’s remaining 1.5 million Christians not to be driven off by the militants.
Sunday’s carnage began at dusk, when a deadly car bomb went off in the area. Militants wearing suicide vests and armed with grenades then attacked the Iraqi stock exchange, injuring two guards.
The attacks may have been an attempt by the militants to divert attention from their real target — the nearby church in an upscale Baghdad neighborhood.
The assault on the church soon followed. The gunmen went inside the structure and took about 120 worshippers hostage.
The dead included 12 police officers and five bystanders thought to have been killed by the blasts outside the church before the attackers stormed inside. Forty-one Christians inside the church also died, including two priests. Iraqi officials had initially provided a much lower death toll.
A statement posted late Sunday on a militant website, allegedly by the Islamic State of Iraq, appeared to claim responsibility for the attack. The group, which is linked to Al Qaeda in Iraq, said it would “exterminate Iraqi Christians’’ if Muslim women in Egypt were not freed.
Witnesses said hostages died both before and during the rescue. They described a terrifying scene in which they desperately tried to shield themselves from the violence.
One parishioner, Rauf Naamat, said militants began by throwing several grenades and spraying the crowd inside the church with gunfire. After the initial violence and chaos died down, the militants walked up to the priest celebrating the Mass, told him to lie down, and shot him, he said.
Naamat said he heard one of the attackers talking to what he thought was Iraqi security, threatening to blow themselves up if Iraqi forces stormed the building.
An Iraqi official said he had a phone conversation with a militant, who demanded that authorities release all Al Qaeda-linked prisoners starting with the women. The official said he judged by the militant’s accent and speech that he was not Iraqi.
When Iraqi special forces joined police and other officials already on the scene, they heard gunshots and decided to enter the church “to prevent the further loss of innocent lives,’’ said Lieutenant Colonel Terry L. Conder, a spokesman for US special forces.
The Iraqi official said that when the security forces stormed the church, the militants were shooting at the hostages.
US Commission Wants UN to Help Iraqi Christians
Urges Government to Address Issue at Security Council Meeting
WASHINGTON, D.C., DEC. 14, 2010 (Zenit.org).- The U.S. federal government Commission on International Religious Freedom is urging a redoubling of efforts to protect Iraqi Christians, and requesting that the U.N. Security Council be used as a forum to address the situation of Christians and other minorities in Iraq.
Leading up to Wednesday’s U.N. Security Council meeting regarding Iraq, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released a statement today.
The commission stated that the “recent upsurge in attacks against Christians” is a clear indication that “the country’s most vulnerable religious minorities remain in peril.”
They “face targeted violence, including murders and attacks on their places of worship and religious leaders, intimidation, and forced displacement; they also experience discrimination, marginalization, and neglect.”
“As a result, these ancient communities’ very existence in the country is now threatened,” the USCIRF statement warned. “The loss of the diversity and human capital these groups represent would be a terrible blow to Iraq’s future as a secure, stable, and pluralistic democracy.”
The commission “urged the U.S. government to redouble its efforts, and use the international forum as an opportunity, to address the grave situation facing that country’s Christians and other imperiled religious minorities.”
Before it’s too late
The USCIRF recommended three steps to aid Iraqi Christians and other minorities.
The members called on the U.S. government to “identify the places throughout Iraq where these targeted minorities worship, congregate, and live, and work with the Iraqi government to assess security needs and develop and implement a comprehensive and effective plan for dedicated Iraqi military protection of these sites and areas.”
They requested a periodic update for Congress on the progress of this process.
The commission further recommended working with the Iraqi government and minorities “to establish, fund, train, and deploy representative local police units to provide additional protection in areas where these communities are concentrated.”
And, the USCIRF urged ensuring that U.S. development assistance “prioritizes areas where these vulnerable communities are concentrated.”
Referring to a Dec. 4 plea for help from a group of 16 Iraqi Christian parties and organizations, the USCIRF urged both U.S. and Iraqi governments to “heed this call and work with these leaders, as well as the leaders of the other small endangered groups in Iraq, on implementing these and other measures to protect and assist these communities before it is too late.”