After four Iraqi churches were targeted in Baghdad and one in the northern city of Mosul during the Sunday bombings, Christians throughout the world have expressed their concern, condemning the attacks that reportedly left at least 11 people dead and dozens injured.
”The Sunday bombings mark a terrible change in tactics targeting minority Christians,” said Jim Jacobson, President Christian Freedom International (CFI). “Increasingly, in recent months Iraqi Christians have felt significant harassment and intimidation as many of their shops and business have been targeted by Muslim extremists, but the Sunday bombings change everything.”
International Christian Concern (ICC), stated that Sunday’s attacks, thought to be the work of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his radical Islamists, should be seen as an attempt to drive Christians out of Iraq.
“This attack is part of a coordinated effort in Iraq and should not be seen as a single incident,” ICC reported. “Rather, it is part of an ongoing campaign of harassment and murder. This violence is born out of a radical Islamic mindset, and is consistent with the actions of radical Islamists towards Christians all over the globe.
“In Pakistan, Christians are targeted and murdered on a regular basis as a result of radical Islam’s well known zero tolerance policy towards other religions,” ICC added.
Prior to the attack in Iraq, rumors circulated throughout the Christian community that Christians were making a mass exodus out of the war-torn nation as the tide of persecution continued to rise for Iraq's Christian minority.
According to sources, after the interim government assumed control of Iraq from the US-led occupation, thousands have tried to flee for fear of an Islamic future in which they would be outcasts. While many have fled to neighboring Jordan and Syria, waiting and watching before deciding whether to return, others are applying with foreign embassies for travel visas to other countries.
Many Christians worry that Sunday’s bombings may lead to a larger exodus, further shrinking Iraq’s already dwindling Christian population.
Open Doors USA President Dr. Carl Moeller commented, "These attacks Sunday on churches, especially in the Baghdad area, just heighten the fear and anxiety level of the Christian minority in Iraq …Christians who were already living in a constant state of fear.”
In a report made by Open Doors last month, Jerry Dykstra, the ministry’s media relations director stated, "Although one can see growing frustration, I hope this will not move people to start thinking about leaving the country. After the first Gulf War, about 35 percent of the Christian population emigrated, but during the last Gulf War the emigration was much less."
As the emergence of a fundamentalist Islamic government in Iraq could lead to a complete exodus of Christians, Dykstra believes this ‘power move’ kind of persecution may be motivated by politics. “That’s really the goal of the terrorists—to drive out the Christian community which numbers about 500-thousand from Iraq, so that when they’re making a new government in about six months, that they will not have any Christians to share the government with or give religious freedom.”
Meanwhile, other organizations feel that Sunday’s bombings were initiated to create inter-religious conflict in Iraq. Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), a UK-based lobby group, condemned the attack, labeling it as an “attempt by extremists to drive a wedge between the communities.”
CSW felt confident, however, that interim government and coalition forces would do their best to protect Christians and other vulnerable groups from attack, praying that they would be successful in their endeavors.
“The extremists behind these attacks must not be allowed to create inter-religious conflict in Iraq,” CSW declared.
Christians around the world have been urged to pray for Iraq, to pray for the families and friends of those lost in Sunday’s attacks, and to pray for religious freedom for Christians as a new government is formed.