October 12, 2008 in Nation/World

Iraqi Christians fleeing attacks by extremists

By BRADLEY S. KLAPPER Associated Press
 

An 1,800-year presence

 Iraq’s Christian community has been estimated at 3 percent of Iraq’s 26 million people, or about 800,000, and has a significant presence in the northern Ninevah province.

 In Mosul, where Christians have lived for some 1,800 years, a number of centuries-old churches still stand. Joseph Jacob, a professor at Mosul University, said there were nearly 20,000 Christians in the city before the 2003 U.S. invasion. But more than half have since left for neighboring towns, or new countries, he said.

BAGHDAD – Hundreds of terrified Christian families have fled Mosul to escape extremist attacks that have increased despite months of U.S. and Iraqi military operations to secure the northern Iraqi city, political and religious officials said Saturday.

Some 3,000 Christians have fled the city over the past week alone in a “major displacement,” said Duraid Mohammed Kashmoula, the governor of northern Iraq’s Ninevah province. He said most have left for churches, monasteries and the homes of relatives in nearby Christian villages and towns.

“The Christians were subjected to abduction attempts and paid ransom, but now they are subjected to a killing campaign,” Kashmoula said, adding he believed al-Qaida elements were to blame and called for a renewed drive to root them out.

Political and religious leaders interviewed said the change in tactics may reflect a desire on the part of extremists to forcibly evict all Christians from Iraq’s third largest city.

Earlier in the week, Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako said he was worried about what he termed a “campaign of killings and deportations against the Christian citizens in Mosul.”

Mosul police have reported finding the bullet-riddled bodies of seven Christians in separate attacks so far this month, the latest a day laborer found on Wednesday. On Saturday, militants blew up three abandoned Christian homes in eastern Mosul, police said.

The Rev. Bolis Jacob of Mosul’s Mar Afram Church said he was at a loss to understand the violence. “We respect the Islamic religion and the Muslim clerics,” he said. “We don’t know under what religion’s pretexts these terrorists work.”

The violence in Mosul occurs despite U.S.-Iraqi operations launched over the summer aimed at routing al-Qaida in Iraq and other insurgents from remaining strongholds north of the capital.

The killings come as Christian leaders are lobbying parliament to pass a law setting aside a number of seats for minorities, such as Christians, in upcoming provincial elections, fearing they could be further marginalized in the predominantly Muslim country.

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