The Christian community in northern Iraq is facing ever-mounting intimidation and violence as part of an effort by Islamic extremists to force believers out of their homeland. According to a report issued by a UK-based lobby group Wednesday, the situation has escalated and tens of thousands are fleeing since the beginning of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which began Oct. 15.
The first reported incident following the beginning of Ramadan, occurred when explosions hit five churches in Baghdad just after 4:00 a.m. on Saturday October 16, although other threats and attacks on Christians have gone largely unreported.
In another incident, photographs of three senior bishops in Mosul were reportedly being circulated around, with the message that they were agents of the U.S. and infidels, and that action must be taken against them.
Shortly after, church leaders serving the Christian community of Karakush, Mosul, received two letters from Islamic militants making demands and threats concerning Christian women. According to the Barnabas Fund, the first letter ordered Christians to allow Christian women to marry Muslim men—which in their eyes would mean that the women had effectively converted to Islam. This, the letter said, would enable the women to be “blessed” and “purified” by their marriages.
The second letter to church leaders, received on Tuesday, Nov. 2, announced the militants’ intention of killing one person in every Christian family as a punishment for female university students who did not cover their heads. The threat was a follow-up to pressure and threats from Islamic extremists against all women in Mosul, requiring them to cover their head with the hijab (Islamic headscarf). So far, two Christian women who were seen with their heads uncovered were reportedly attacked with nitric acid, while another Christian woman was killed around Oct. 26 for having her head uncovered. Specific threats about the clothing of female students at Mosul University have caused an estimated 1,500 Christian women to stop attending their classes.
Leaflets have also been distributed with the message: “Christians go; leave Iraq,” the Barnabas Fund reports; while word is being passed around in the mosques, telling Muslims not to buy anything from the Christians. The leaflets, which label Christians as infidels, also say Christians will soon be leaving, so the Muslims will be able to take their homes and property for free.
“In this grave situation, the Christians in Iraq beg for the prayers of their Christian brothers and sisters elsewhere,” the Barnabas Fund wrote. “Ask the Lord to protect them from those who would harm them, and to fill their hearts with faith and hope.”
The Barnabas Fund is calling for the Christian community to write to their local political representative and the U.S. embassy asking them to raise the suffering of Christians in Iraq as a “matter of utmost urgency” and call for their immediate intervention to protect Iraqi Christians.
The group also intends to send out a lobbying request through its Rapid Lobbying Network to include further information about writing letters of petition.