Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Iraqi Christians

It's coming on Christmas
They're cutting down trees
They're putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace
Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on

-- "River," written by Joni Mitchell, first appears on her album Blue

Alsumaria TV reports, "Kirkuk Christians cancelled Christmas festivities and plan to hold the sacred holiday mass during the day to mourn the victims of Baghdad Church attack, Archbishop of Kirkuk Louis Sako said." Deutsche Presse-Agentur notes, "No group could feel safe, especially during the worst years, in 2006 and 2007. But vulnerable minorities, scattered across the country, have been particularly hard hit, as they had little protection of their own to rely on. Larger sects formed militias that sometimes attacked other groups, but also had defence forces to protect their own neighbourhoods. Christians, Yezidis and Shebeks remain the most targeted of Iraq's small religious groups, once a source of pride for many in the country who enjoyed diversity." Iraqi Christians have been targeted throughout the Iraq War and the latest wave of attacks began October 31st with the assault on Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad. Rebecca Santana (AP) notes, "They have suffered repeated violence and harassment since 2003, when the interreligious peace rigidly enforced by Saddam Hussein fell apart. But the attack on Our Lady of Salvation in which 68 people died appears to have been a tipping point that has driven many to flee northeward to the Kurdish enclave while seeking asylum in the U.S. and elsewhere." Margaret Wente (Globe & Mail) adds, "In recent years, Muslim extremists have stepped up their attacks on Iraq’s Christians, who used to number about a million (3 per cent of the population). Today, the Christians are fleeing, as the Jews once fled, and the population has been cut in half. Extremists have firebombed their homes, kidnapped their relatives, and shot them in cold blood." Amnesty International issued the following yesterday:

Amnesty International today called on the Iraqi government to do more to protect the country's Christian minority from an expected spike in violent attacks as they prepare to celebrate Christmas.
Amnesty International today called on the Iraqi government to do more to protect the country's Christian minority from an expected spike in violent attacks as they prepare to celebrate Christmas.
"Attacks on Christians and their churches by armed groups have intensified in past weeks and have clearly included war crimes" said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
"We fear that militants are likely to attempt serious attacks against Christians during the Christmas period for maximum publicity and to embarrass the government."
Last year armed groups carried out fatal bomb attacks on churches in Mosul on 15 and 23 December. Some 65 attacks on Christian churches in Iraq were recorded between mid-2004 and the end of 2009.
The increase in violence against Christians in the last month takes place against a backdrop of sectarian violence in Iraq, including several bomb attacks on Shi'a gatherings last week during the Ashura period, which have reportedly killed more than a dozen people.
"We utterly condemn the ongoing attacks against Iraqi civilians carried out by armed groups, and call on the Iraqi government to provide more protection, especially for vulnerable religious and ethnic communities" said Malcolm Smart.
Attacks have increased since around 100 worshippers were taken hostage in a Baghdad Assyrian Catholic church by an armed group on 31 October, with more than 40 people killed as Iraqi security forces tried to free the hostages. The Islamic State of Iraq, an armed group linked to al-Qa'ida, claimed responsibility for the attack.
Following the hostage crisis, Christian families in Baghdad have been subjected to increasing bomb and rocket attacks on their homes, as well as systematic threats in the mail or by text message.
Christians in Mosul have also been increasingly targeted for assassination by gunmen, with reports in Iraqi media of at least five killed by armed men in November. Reports of killings and abductions of Christians in Mosul have continued in December. Dozens of Christian families have fled Baghdad, Mosul and Basra and have sought refuge in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.
In May this year, a bus-load of Christian students were targeted in a bomb attack as they travelled from a predominantly Christian area in Mosul to Mosul University. A Christian from Mosul who must remain anonymous for security reasons has told Amnesty International: "Many students who were in those buses in May have not gone back to university."
"The security situation in Mosul is very bad... 90 per cent of the Christian students have dropped university - they are all very afraid of something happening to them. ...When I leave the house I am always under alert..."
These comments are consistent with a summary of testimonies from Iraqi Christians who have recently fled to Syria, released by a Christian organisation called the Church Committee for Iraqi Refugees in al-Hassake.
The summary, released by the Barnabas Fund, another Christian NGO, says that Iraqi Christians in threatened cities like Mosul "are living behind locked doors. They are compelled to take long leaves of absence from work, in Mosul and other cities, as a result of the dangers they face at work. The universities are almost empty of Christian students, as are the schools."
The summary tells of regular threats against Christian families in Mosul and other cities, including a dead bird being nailed to the door in warning, extortion, and offensive graffiti on houses.
Tenants renting the homes of Christians who have fled Iraq are allegedly being forced to hand over the rent payments to armed groups who consider themselves the new owners, according to the summary. When Christian families have sold their houses to leave Iraq, armed groups have also allegedly threatened the new owners for taking 'their' property.
According to media reports, as Christmas approaches the Iraqi authorities have started constructing concrete walls to protect Mosul and Baghdad churches from security threats, and are introducing stringent security checks at their entrances. Religious services have been scaled back due to fear of attacks.
"Building walls around churches is a sign that the government has failed to provide real security" said Malcolm Smart.
The wave of attacks on Mosul Christians since the 2003 invasion of Iraq has greatly reduced the community's population which then stood at over 100,000.
Iraqi politicians have taken since elections in May to form a government, creating a climate of uncertainty and power vacuum for months, which has been exploited by armed groups.
"Now that Iraq is finally forming a government, that new government's effectiveness will be measured by whether it achieves an actual reduction in sectarian attacks by armed groups, and helps stem the flood of Christians fleeing Iraq to escape the violence" said Malcolm Smart.

Monday 20 December 2010
Make a difference!

The Iraq War has created the biggest refugee crisis in the region. Many of the millions of external Iraqi refugees have sought sancturary in surrounding countries. Suha Philip Ma'ayeh (The National) reports from Jordan where Yousef Abdullah and his wife and their two daughters managed to escape from Iraq after a home invasion in which they were told leave now or be killed. Abdullah's mind is very much on Iraq, "How are we going to feel the joy of Christmas? My son is in Baghdad with his wife. He called me the day before yesterday and told me he wants to flee to [the Iraqi city of] Irbil. We cannot celebrate when tragedy struck Our Lady of Salvation Church," he said of the October 31 attacks that killed 68 people. "Even children were slaughtered at the altar. Our wounds are deep."

Dropping back to last Friday's snapshot:

Starting with Iraqi refugees, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has announced its objection to Europe's forced returns of Iraqi refugees. Spokesperson Melissa Fleming states, "UNHCR strongly reiterates its call on countries to refrain from deporting Iraqis who originate from the most perilous parts of the country." UNHCR adds, "In the latest incident, Sweden on Wednesday forcibly returned a group of some 20 Iraqis to Baghdad, including five Christians originally from the Iraqi capital. Fleming, speaking to journalists in Geneva, said UNHCR staff in Baghdad had since interviewed three of the Christians and three Arab Muslims among the group. One of the Christian men said he escaped Iraq in 2007 after militiamen threatened to kill him. He travelled through several countries in the Middle East and Europe before reaching Sweden, where he applied for asylum." And as wrong and as bad as that is, The Local reports that the Swedish government deported one 52-year-old male to Iraq . . . but he wasn't from Iraq. He was from Iran.
The latest wave of attacks on Iraqi Christians began October 31st with the assault on Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad in which at least seventy people were killed and another seventy injured. Since then, Baghdad and Mosul especially have been flashpoints for violence aimed at Iraqi Christians with many fleeing -- and many fleeing to the KRG. UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming noted today, "This forced return comes at a time when our five offices in Iraq are noting a significant increase in Christians fleeing Baghdad and Mosul to the Kurdistan Regional Government Region and Ninewa plains [in the north." She cited 68 as the number of people killed in the October 31st attack on the church. Joe Sterling (CNN) notes 70 were killed (53 of which were Iraqi Christians). Fleming explained 1,000 families as the number that has left Baghdad and Mosul for northern Iraq. She also noted that Iraqi Christians are also fleeing to Jordan, Lebanon and Syria with UNHCR offices in each country registering an increase in the "number of Iraqi Christians arriving and contacting UNHCR for registration and help." She put the efforts of the European countries doing these forced deportations into perspective when she noted one Iraqi Christian male in Jordan had been forcibly returned to Iraq "just days beforehand" by a European country she didn't identify. He "left the church minutes before the bombing took place." No, (I'm saying this) it is not safe for Iraqi refugees to return to Iraq. If they want to, every one has the right to live their lives as they see fit. But no host country should be forcing Iraqi refugees to return to Iraq.

Despite the UN warning, Catholic Culture notes, the government of Sweden continues to deport Iraqi Christians.

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thomas friedman is a great man

oh boy it never ends