New Iraq Brings New Fears of Persecution for Christians

( [email protected] ) Jul 27, 2004 07:00 PM EDT

It's a delicate issue for Christians in Iraq who want to be seen to be supporting their reborn nation's attempts at reaching towards a better way of life, especially when for many, the worsening circumstances are undeniable. However, as the new Iraq seems destined to be dominated by a mix of Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites, the Associated Press reports that many Christians are left wondering if it's time to leave.

With the number of Church attendants continuing to dwindle, most Christians blame concern over a tumultuous security situation for keeping them away from church, but it's only a small part of a greater, and growing, predicament.

According to AP, the Christian minority in Iraq is anxious about their place in the new world around them, one that often sees them as collaborators with their American occupiers. As secular Iraqis worry about the growing tide of Islamic fundamentalism, so long repressed under Saddam Hussein, their Christian compatriots are feeling the effects closer to home.

"It never used to be something we talked about at work," said one woman, who asked not to be named. "But I hear it all the time from the Muslims in my office they say we should be part of the insurgency, they say we should all fight together against the Americans, that we should be involved."

An initial subtle difference in the way her Muslim co-workers in a government office treated her soon evolved into full-fledged disdain, she claims.

"We feel it, we feel it so much more. Suddenly they don't like our clothes, we can't wear what we like, I'm afraid for our daughters," she said.

Eighteen-year-old Fadi, studying accounting at Baghdad's university, spoke of learning to hold his tongue when Muslim students turned on him and his Christian friends.

"They think that because the Americans are Christians and we're Christian that we must be collaborating with them," he told AP. "There's more of them than there are of us, so we have to pull back without answering back."

Under Saddam Hussein some Iraqi Christians say they were able to practice their faith in relative security, free from persecution, and threats from Islamic radicals about liquor stores and beauty salons were always firmly dealt with, but now Islamic radicals have warned Christians running liquor stores to shut down their sales, and have turned their sights on fashion stores and beauty salons.

Recently, the Barnabas Fund released news that the Christian owner of Al-Hanna restaurant in Mosul’s Al-Dawasa district was murdered by the Islamic Wahhabbeen group on Monday July 19 because he had American customers.

The increasing attention on the minority community has many within looking for a way out.

Also, last week local newspapers reported that the Chaldean Patriarch, the Rev. Emmanuel Delly, met with Iraqi interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi and told him that Christians wanted to flee the country because they feared for their lives in the new Iraq.

According to AP, Allawi's office wouldn't comment on the report, while Delly reacted furiously when confronted with the question, later stating, ''I tell [my diocese] that we love our nation, and we will work for a better Iraq.'' He said he didn't know anything about threats to Iraqi Christians and their livelihoods.

According to Bishop Andreas at the Assumption of the Virgin Mary Church, some Christians who fled Iraq before the war are in neighboring Jordan and Syria, waiting and watching before deciding whether to return.

''They're very afraid,'' he admitted.

Meanwhile, many other Iraqi Christians in neighboring countries are applying with foreign embassies for travel visas to countries like Australia, said one Christian woman, who declined to be named.

[Source: AP ]