Friday, December 26, 2008

Prison revolt and Mosul

Prisoners in a western Iraqi jail staged an armed revolt Friday morning that lasted for at least two hours. Ten police men and six prisoners were killed in the battle that ensued. Three Al Qaida in Iraq prisoners escaped and are on the loose, Iraqi police said.

The above is from Jamal Naji and Leila Fadel's "Ramadi prison revolt leaves 16 dead" (McClatchy Newspapers) and that's the big news breaking in Iraq this morning. Reuters, AP and other outlets are filing on it.

Sam Dahger offers "In Mosul, Iraqi Christians Brave the Violence to Celebrate Christmas" (New York Times) which examines conditions in Mosul -- an under-reported area considering its importance which will only increase in 2009. There's really no 'best' section of Dagher's report (which is one of his better offerings) so, if you have the time and use links, read in full. But we'll highlight these sections:

At St. Paul's, Mikhail Ibrahim said the only reason he returned to Mosul after fleeing for a few weeks with his family was because of his faith in the Rev. Basman George Fatouhi, the Chaldean Church's de facto leader in Mosul.
"He was the only one who stayed and took care of the community," Mr. Ibrahim said. "He told us to come back and we did."
Father Fatouhi, a charismatic 27-year-old priest, was thrust into the effective leadership of the Chaldean Church in Mosul after the kidnapping and death this year of its leader, Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho. Archbishop Rahho's closest aide, another senior figure in the church, was killed in 2007.
Father Fatouhi had negotiated with the archbishop's kidnappers, who abducted the archbishop after a church service and killed three of his companions.
Their demands went from $300,000 to $20,000, but after the lesser sum was paid the negotiators were told that the archbishop had died in captivity because he did not have his diabetes medication.
Father Fatouhi and another church member dug his body out of a shallow grave and took it to the morgue.
[. . .]
Amid the violence, the few remaining church leaders like Father Fatouhi and Sister Autour Yousif, who also belongs to the Chaldean Church, are working against the tide to keep their faith alive.
During the depths of the crisis in October, they were not only providing moral and spiritual support, but often venturing out at great risk to buy food and provisions for families who were too scared to even go to the market. They have also been determined to maintain church services in some of the most dangerous parts of the city.
On numerous occasions the pair have found themselves carrying out the grim task of collecting the bodies of Christians from the morgue because their families were too afraid to do it.
Sister Yousif is among three nuns at a convent next to the Miskinta church who have refused to leave Mosul. They care for 27 orphan girls and reach out to Muslims and Christians alike.
"We are like the rest of the people," she said. "We will remain until they all leave. The poor need us."

Again, it's one of Dagher's better reports and stands with the reporting he did from Iraq for the Christian Science Monitor -- the work that originally caught the Times' attention. Also on Mosul, we'll note this from Kimi Yoshino and Ali Hameed's "Greatest gift for Iraqi Christians -- returning home" (Los Angeles Times):

In the northern city of Mosul, Christians celebrated quietly, fearing violence. More than 900 Christian families fled the city as recently as October after attacks by Sunni Arab militants.
Issa Zakariya, 55, said he missed the days when Christians in Mosul could celebrate in peace.
"Years ago, we were spending Christmas congratulating our friends and relatives in Mosul, but today everything has changed," Zakariya said. "But despite all that, the flavor of Christmas still exists and the dream of Santa still exists in the hearts of the children. I just hope peace and safety come back to Iraq."

And despite the rush to assert large returnees to Mosul, that is not the case. The United Nations' tracking disproves it. A small percentage (approximately 1/3) did return in November but the bulk have not. Some are internal refugees living elsewhere in Iraq and some are external refugees who left the country. Liz Sly's "Christian refugees from Iraq pack pews in Lebanon" (Chicago Tribune) reports on some of Iraq's external refugees:

In Iraq, the priests routinely celebrate mass in nearly empty churches—if they dare open their church doors at all.
At the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in this working-class Christian suburb east of Beirut, Rev. Joseph Malkoum preaches to an Iraqi congregation that expands every Sunday, swelled by the ranks of Christians fleeing Iraq.
In recent weeks, he has noticed an increase in the number of new faces crowded into the pews as a surge in violence directed against Christians in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul fuels a fresh wave of refugees.
"There was a period when we felt the numbers were going down, but after the recent troubles in Mosul the movement is picking up again," said Malkoum, who holds a special mass every Sunday for Iraqi Chaldeans, the denomination to which the majority of Iraqi Christians belongs.

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