Iraqi Church Bombings Draw Widespread Condemnation

"The situation in Iraq is not isolated. It is related to the general political situation in the world"
( [email protected] ) Aug 02, 2004 03:17 PM EDT

Christian and political leaders worldwide condemned Sunday’s attacks on the minority Christian population of Iraq that wounded 50 and killed at least 10.

"I was appalled to learn about the bombing of churches in Iraq. This action further undermines efforts to rebuild Iraq as a democratic society where all religious communities and peoples can live in harmony,” said Samuel Kobia, general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC). “The WCC has worked for many years to foster understanding and dialogue among Muslims and Christians, which have a long history of peaceful co-existence in the region. The Council has been at the forefront of ecumenical efforts to promote peace in Iraq and condemned the US-led intervention in the country. WCC and its member churches have actively supported humanitarian relief work in Iraq since the conflict started. We strongly condemn all forms of violence which target religious communities or any group of people, and which seek to introduce religious enmity into this conflict."

In an unexpected and unprecedented act of violence, unidentified insurgents coordinated a string of bombings targeted specifically at five churches in Iraq; four were in Baghdad and one was in Mosul.

Since the nation’s 700,000 Christians traditionally lived in peace with the nation’s Muslim majority, most leaders blamed “foreign fighters” and “extremists” for the attacks.

"This was not done by Iraqis. It was done by people who don't know who God is," said Marie Butros, 35, a hospital secretary in the smart Karada district, targeted by two of the bombs, according to Reuters. "Our borders are open and a lot of foreigners can enter.”

The WCC Middle East secretary Lina Moukheibar agreed, saying that the violence affected not only Christians but peaceful Muslims as well.

"We should remember that the escalation of violence in Iraq has affected thousands of people, both Muslims and Christians, and our solidarity is with all victims,” said Moukheibar, reminding everyone that this was the first coordinated attack against Christians.

Iraq’s highest religious leader – Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani who leads the Muslim Shite movement – also condemned the attacks as one that stretches beyond “religious” boundaries.

"We denounce and condemn those terrible crimes... We should all be working together as a government and a people in order to put an end to the attacks against Iraqis," he said through a statement.

The leaders of Middle Eastern Churches also condemned the attacks and called for solidarity among all peoples of Iraq in recovering from the violence.

"Solidarity is very important, both inside and outside the region, both among Christians and between Christians and Muslims," said Metropolitan Dr Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim, from the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch.

“The WCC and others should encourage anything that brings Christians and Muslims together, not only in theological dialogue but also in the dialogue of life and work,” continued Gregorios.

"I address my appeal to the Arab world, which can support any plan for peace, and also to the Iraqi people themselves - if they are not in solidarity, how then can they solve these problems?" he asked while speaking at the WCC’s Faith and Order plenary commission in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Bishop Nareg Alemezian of the Armenian Apostolic Church also called on the international society to strive for peace.

“This is not just a problem for Syrians and Armenians," he said. "The situation in Iraq is not isolated. It is related to the general political situation in the world.

"We have a conflict, and we have to solve it - the US, the UN, all parties involved in the creation of this situation, but also local people and faith communities,” he continued.

Emmanuel Delly, the patriarch of the Chaldean church, the largest Christian denomination in Iraq, also called for unity among all groups and faiths.

"Christians and Muslims must stand together for the good of Iraq because we are one family," said Delly.

Meanwhile, on Monday, the Iraqi government announced that the masterminds behind the attacks are without a “shadow of a doubt” the work of Al Qaeda-ally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

"There is no shadow of a doubt that this bears the blueprint of Zarqawi," said national security adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubaie.

"Zarqawi and his extremists are basically trying to drive a wedge between Muslims and Christians in Iraq. It's clear they want to drive Christians out of the country," he said to Reuters.

Rubaie said Iraq’s national council would hold an emergency meeting today to discuss Sunday’s blasts; Washington has put a $25 million price on Zarqawi's head.

Christians account for less than 3% of the population in Iraq; many Christians began leaving Iraq in the early 1980s because of poverty and war – some half million left in the last 15 years.

Christian leaders emphasized the need to maintain the fragile Christian population in the Middle East.

"Christians are an integral part of the society they are living in, they are not newcomers, they are not there for any superficial reason," said Alemezian. "Middle Eastern Christians are the people of the land where Christ was born.”

“This is the first time Christian churches have been targeted. We condemn this attack and we are very concerned about it,” he continued.

"The diminishing number of Christians in Iraq is a terrible thing," said Gregorios. "The same picture is replicated in other countries like Turkey, Iran, and Palestine. We are losing our people."