Friday, March 23, 2012

Iraqi Christians continue to be targeted

"Do you think they will kill us too?" This was the disturbing question posed by his ten-year-old son, Karol and it was a query that made up Bader al-Din's mind. The Christian man, resident in the semi-autonomous Northern state of Iraqi Kurdistan, decided that he would have to leave his ancestral land soon and never return.
Al-Din's family's anxieties really began late last year when riots erupted spontaneously in the northern city of Zakho, near the Turkish-Iraqi border, after prayers one Friday afternoon. The riots, which spread further afield too, resulted in the destruction of stores selling alcohol, a massage parlour and tourist accommodation.

The above is from Varvan Ahmad's "Exodous from Iraqi Kurdistan: North No Longer Safe for Christians" (Niqash). Throughout the Iraq War, there have been waves of violence targeting Iraqi Christians and other religious minorities. A commonly spoken assessment is that they felt safer when Saddam Hussein was in power. One reason for that is that, for the region, he was a secular leader. The US government gave fundamentalist thugs the green light to terrorize in Iraq with the 2003 invasion. Among the earliest targeted were the religious minorities and that's why Iraqi Christians make up a small number of the country's population but a much larger percentage of the refugee population. Two weeks ago, Jack Healy (New York Times) noted that some estimates offer that as many as 900,000 Iraqi Christians have left the country. That's a large number by most scales but even larger when you grasp that the UN estimated Iraq's 2003 population to be approximately 25.2 million. At the end of last year, Peter Wilson (The Australian) noted Human Rights Watch's estimate that as many as 70% of the country's Christians had left the region.

The most infamous attack on Iraqi Christians was the October 31, 2010 attack on Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad. Last August, when yet another church was attacked (Kirkuk's Holy Family Church), . Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reminds, "An October 31 attack on the Sayidat al-Nejat Cathedral, or Our Lady of Salvation Church, left 70 people dead and 75 wounded, including 51 congregants and two priests." For some reason, many outlets go with 'over fifty' and if that's to avoid noting the number of attackers who died, it should be remembered that in the first service after the October 31st attack, the congregation of Our Lady In Salvation Church prayed for all the dead -- not just members of their own congregation. Why much of the press repeatedly goes with a lower number (one that apparently leaves out the assailants who were killed) is a mystery.

Attacks have continued in Iraq with the most recent being Tuesday's attack on the Syrian Orthodox Church of St. Matthew in Baghdad which left three people dead.

While many of the Christians who became refugees fled the country, many also attempted to relocate to what was hoped would be safer parts of Iraq. For Iraqi Christians, that generally meant northern Iraq. Abdulla Hawez (MidEast Youth) reports:

Christians in Kurdistan live in self-imposed isolation, remaining within community boundaries in order to feel secure. When one enters the Christian enclave which the building infrastructure development is evident the psychological pressure under which the inhabitants live can easily be felt. Speaking to Christians, one hears about how uncertain they are regarding their future, especially after the regime changes in the region. “The Arab Spring is a problem for Christians” says David Saka, 23, studying business and management at a British-style university in Erbil. The collective voice of Islamists in Kurdistan has become louder since the revolutions began; this in itself makes Christians scared. Saka is a close friend with the son of one of the Kurdish Islamist leaders that scares him. He says he has no problem with the father of his friend –rather, he has a problem with his ideology. Hilda Khorany, a clothing designer, also feels “threatened” when she hears the word “Islamists”. Khorany, showing a beautiful smile, said that she “loves Kurdistan” and that most of her friends are Kurds, but that she doesn’t wish to see the rise of Islamists in the province. Both Saka and Khorany feel happy with the current government in Kurdistan, and perceive it as liberal.
However two other young Christians, who preferred to remain anonymous, said that “there is a big conspiracy against us [Christians]”. For many years, the young man insisted, “it was forbidden for Muslims to buy lands in Ankawa, but now they are occupying our town through investments”. He mentioned a huge project by a Turkish company to build residential houses there – which, according to him, have been bought mainly by Arab Muslims. He complained also about plans to build a mosque in Ankawa to accommodate of the rapidly growing number of Muslims. He also indicated that their culture is being destroyed through the building of bars and nightclubs. Saka and Khorany each added their own complaints about the amount of bars in their town. The anonymous young Christian even stated that he wished to be ruled by Islamists rather than the current government, because “at least then we will live with dignity. While they may ask for Jizyah, we have lots of money to pay”.

Throughout the war, there has been a denial of what is taking place. The media has often repeated Iraqi government officials insisting that the exodus was only temporary while some Christian officials have insisted that Iraqi Christians have an obligation not to leave. On the latter, Iraqis have an obligation to try to keep themselves safe -- if that means leaving Iraq, then that's what they need to do. They don't need 'spiritual counseling' on whether or not to continue living within a war zone and that sort of 'spiritual counseling' is especially funny when it comes from the 'great' British liar who does lay overs in Baghdad but resides in England. Excuse me, lay overs in the Green Zone of Baghdad. Very easy to preach that others should stay when you're neither an Iraqi citizen or someone living in Iraq (though your spy work for the occupation did pay off handsomely for you).

In November of 2007, Nouri al-Maliki's government had already demonstrated that they were unable/unwilling to protect Iraq's Christian population but more than willing to lie. That's how we saw the Myth of 'The Great Return.' It was surprisingly popular spin that the press quickly adopted and repeated. Though, never before in recorded history, had a people who fled a country for violence returned to it while violence continued even at an allegedly lesser rate. Well, that's the thing about general studies majors (journalism majors), they really don't get the education that others do and common sense is clearly not a prerequisite for the major either. (Of US outlets, only Damien Cave and Cara Buckley of the New York Times would push back against the myth, they reported facts and demonstrated the claims were baseless.)

Tuesday the Archbishop Emeritus of DC, Theodore E. McCarrick noted the ninth anniversary of the start of the Iraq War at The Hill in a column about Iraqi refugees which included:

Individuals and families from both groups have been waiting for the green light to travel to the United States, but, because of added security processes, have been waiting for months, if not for a year or more, for clearance. They are caught up in an almost endless cycle of multiple security checks, medical exams and resettlement interviews, each of which expire at different times and require the whole cycle to be repeated.
Close to 30,000 Iraqi refugees Iraq and surrounding countries, including Syria — not a safe place anymore — languish as they await clearances. Another 30,000 persons in Iraq who helped our government are still waiting to be interviewed for resettlement.
[. . .]
Many also are religious minorities, including Christians. Close to one-quarter of Iraqi refugees awaiting clearance have persecution claims based upon religious grounds. With both Al-Qaeda and Shiite militias growing more active and bold in Iraq, these minorities and others could face increased violence in the days and months ahead.

NPR's Deborah Amos has reported on the region throughout the war. For her 2010 book, Eclipse of the Sunnis: Power, Exile, and Upheaval in the Middle East, she interviewed many refugees and many attempting to aid refugees. It's an amazing book and, near the end, the issue of refugees returning is raised. We'll note this regarding Christians who fled to Jordan:

As for the Christian minorities in Amman, [UNCHR Deputy Representative Araft] Jamal was convinced they would never return. By 2009, the European Union had stepped up resettlement quotas, promising places for as many as ten thousand Iraqis, mostly threatened Christians, despite appeals from Iraq that doing so would diminish the remaining Christian community and raise questions about its continued viability.

The following community sites -- plus Iraq Veterans Against the War, Cindy Sheehan,, On the Wilder Side, CSPAN, Adam Kokesh and Cindy Sheehan -- updated last night:

A note, on religion here at this site. I'm not preaching/witnessing/testifying and don't plan to be. Nor am I trying to attack anyone's religion or opposition to religion. We do not take any deity's name in vain here because there's no reason to offend. The only time I will curb my use of a term for the media is on this type of entry because I do know religious community members as well as by passerbys may distribute them and don't need to be confronted with, "Did you read what the potty mouth said before you e-mailed it to me?" If I'm doing my part to be respectful of all beliefs, I'm really not going to highlight your 'pithy' (catty) put-downs of Christianity. Please stop sending that junk to the public e-mail account. And this especially refers to those of you who feel the need to 'send up' the religion of Republican politicians (and apparently are unaware that Barack Obama made a high profile visit to church on Sunday). I will not highlight it and it wastes the time of all the people who are kind enough to help me out by reading all the e-mails that come in.

We'll close with this from the Center for Constitutional Rights:

Press and Public Must be Given Immediate Access to Documents and Information Filed in Manning Case

March 22, 2012, New York – Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) sent a letter to the judge presiding over the court martial of alleged Wikileaks leaker Private Bradley Manning, requesting immediate public and press access to all documents, motions, briefs and information related to the proceedings. CCR represents Wikileaks and the media organization’s publisher, Julian Assange. Relying on the First Amendment, military law and common law, which mandate public criminal trials and court martial proceedings, the letter condemns the failure to grant access to filed court documents, noting what CCR called a pattern of troubling secrecy surrounding the Bradley Manning proceedings. The letter urged the court to respect what CCR says is the interest of the public and the media to transparent and fair legal proceedings.

“The proceedings were very difficult to understand, even for a lawyer, because the legal papers were not made available before the hearing. Nor could I read them after the hearing,” said CCR President Emeritus Michael Ratner, who signed the letter and attended last week’s arguments at Ft. Meade on various motions in the Manning hearings. “In addition, substantive legal matters were argued and decided in secret. It’s shocking that secrecy should be the order of the day in one of the most important cases of the last half-century.”
The letter reads, in part:
As Circuit Judge Damon Keith wrote in Detroit Free Press v. Ashcroft, 303 F.3d 681, 683 (6th Cir. 2002): “Democracies die behind closed doors.” We urge the Court to take the action required by military law and the Constitution. …[To] date this court-martial reflects – and indeed compounds – the lack of openness experienced in Pfc. Manning’s prior Article 32 hearing. Documents and information filed in the case are not available to the public anywhere, nor has the public received appropriate prior notice of issues to be litigated in the case… Without access to these materials, the Manning hearings and trial cannot credibly be called open and public. We do not understand how a court-martial proceeding can be deemed to comply with the UCMJ or the Constitution unless its proceedings are accessible in a timely fashion.
The letter further argues that Mr. Assange in particular has a substantial legal interest in obtaining access to documents and information filed in Manning’s case. Last month, as series of leaks published from the private intelligence corporation Stratfor indicated that the United States Department of Justice has issued a secret, sealed indictment against Assange, presumably based on information obtained from the Manning proceedings.

The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.

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