Attacks Against Christians in Iraq Plant Fears

( [email protected] ) Feb 06, 2004 02:19 PM EST

BASRA, Iraq - The series of violent attacks against Christians in southern Iraq have badly shaken the minority community, nearly succeeding in driving them out from the city of Basra.

"Most of the Christians have had these thoughts about leaving, anyone with relatives elsewhere or money to leave the country will not hesitiate to go," said Muwafaq Butris, Habeeb's brother, speaking at their home next to a mosque.

Archbishop Gabriel Kassab, who presides over Basra's estimated 1,150 Syrian Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant and Chaldean Christian families, also warns of an exodus.

"Before, under the previous regime, there was security, there were no big problems. Now at least six people have been killed from our community," he said.

"There are some Muslim radicals who see the Christians as feeble. My people are now afraid, some of those with family outside are leaving."

Kassab, orginally from the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, said he was optimistic the situation would improve, blaming the attacks on non-Iraqis and insisting that relations between Basra's religious communities were still strong.

"The trouble that comes here is not coming from Basra's citizens. We have good cooperation here, at Christmas all the Muslims came here and now it is Eid I am visiting all the mosques," he said, referring to the Eid al-Adha feast of the sacrifice.

However, at one Basra Christian household that was hit by a grenade blast last Tuesday, the reports are pessimistic.

"Before they were just attacking us in the street, now we are not safe in our own homes," said the head of the household.

"I would leave Basra if I could, but I cannot afford to as I am putting my children through college, and I have nowhere else to go. Instead, we must stay up all night guarding the house and worrying about another attack."