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Terrorists target Assyrian Churches in Iraq
Iraqi Christians Face Uncertain, Dangerous Future

Roch Hammond
CNS News Correspondent

August 5, 2004

Sunday's bombing of Christian churches in Iraq highlights the precarious standing of one of the nation's most historic, but smallest religious groups, according to a group dedicated to religious liberties.

"Increasingly in recent months, Iraqi Christians have felt significant harassment and intimidation as many of their shops and businesses have been targeted by Muslim extremists, but the Sunday bombings change everything," said Jim Jacobson, president of Christian Freedom International.

The July 31 attacks were directed at four churches in Baghdad and one in Mosul, leaving a total of 11 people dead.

''Of the various factions that hope to disrupt and rise to power in Iraq, some, if given the chance, would slaughter all Iraqi Christians and completely destroy any trace of Christianity," Jacobson stated.

After the ouster of the Saddam Hussein regime by a United States-led invasion in April 2003, various militant Islamic terrorist groups surfaced and have been increasingly targeting Iraqi Christians, according to news reports.

In southern Iraq and in the vast Shi'ite slum of Sadr City in Baghdad, radical Islamic militiamen loyal to wanted hard-line cleric Muqtada al Sadr have reportedly been directing security and seeking to impose strict Islamic law, rather than constitutional law.

The targeted violence includes several bombings aimed at Christian merchants who in some cases sell alcohol that is forbidden by Islamic law. Christians have also been victimized by murders and kidnappings, allegedly because they did not adhere to the laws of Islam.

The transitional Iraqi constitution is protective of individual rights. The document recognizes equal protection under the law for all citizens, guarantees free and fair trials and elections, religious freedom and the protection of private property, among others.

However, Article 7 names Islam as the official state religion and "a source of the legislation" in Iraq. One excerpt reads: "This constitution respects the Islamic identity of the majority of the Iraqi population while guaranteeing freedom of all other religions and practices."

Jeff King, president of International Christian Concern, said there is not only a "war problem" in Iraq, but also a "cultural" problem.

"[U]ntil order is restored in [Iraq] and the bad guys are caught, [violence] is going to happen," King said.

King believes that Iraqis need "moderates," such as most of the Iraqi Transitional Government, to gain and maintain power in order to achieve a culture of freedom, individual rights, democracy and tolerance.

Jose Fuentes, spokesman for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), said there are no specific programs or aid for Iraqi Christians.

USAID has been at the forefront of reconstruction efforts in Iraq, helping to rebuild infrastructure, providing humanitarian assistance, educational reform and improvements, as well as teaching Iraqis about democracy.

And Fuentes thinks the attacks are being conducted to derail democracy in Iraq, rather than as a way to intimidate Christians.

"These attacks are more driven by [insurgents] who are still there that don't want democracy to continue. They've been attacking Shi'ites, and now they attack the Christian population in Iraq," Fuentes stated.

While Fuentes admitted that it is a "daunting task" to rebuild Iraq and teach its citizens the virtues of freedom, individual rights, tolerance and democracy, it is well worth it.

He said the Coalition Provisional Authority and USAID are "educating the public on how democracy works" so disputes among people with divergent ideologies and viewpoints can settle their differences non-violently and so the Iraqi people can begin to govern themselves effectively.

Estimates of Iraq's Christian population range from 600,000 to 800,000 -- roughly 3 percent of the country's overall population of around 25 million.

The Christian population has steadily declined from well over 1 million since Operation Desert Storm in 1991. United Nations sanctions imposed after the Persian Gulf War hit Iraq hard and it's believed that Saddam Hussein's regime began to "Islamicize" the country in order to increase the level of hostility toward the United States and the West.

As a result, many Christians who feared that a hard-line Islamic regime would eventually replace Saddam in Iraq sought political asylum abroad.

Many Muslims in Iraq believe that the Iraqi Christians are collaborators with the United States and Coalition Forces, and thus, are "enemies" of Islam.

Lt. Col Barry Venable with the U.S. Department of Defense said the insurgents view the new Iraqi government as "pawns of America" and "illegitimate." He said the insurgents include Sunni Arab "rejectionists" motivated by Arab and Iraqi nationalism; Shi'ite Arab "oppositionists" seeking to impose Islamic law and general criminals seeking to capitalize on the unstable security situation.

"Basic criminals," he said are "by far the largest security problem in Iraq.""

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Messages In This Thread
[No subject] - by Dan Gan - 08-03-2004, 04:22 AM
[No subject] - by Ivan Pavlovich Ostapyuk - 08-03-2004, 05:25 AM
[No subject] - by Dan Gan - 08-03-2004, 06:53 AM
[No subject] - by Ivan Pavlovich Ostapyuk - 08-03-2004, 10:51 PM
[No subject] - by Dean Dana - 08-04-2004, 04:26 PM
[No subject] - by byrnesey - 08-04-2004, 07:52 PM
[No subject] - by Rob - 08-04-2004, 08:13 PM
[No subject] - by Paul Younan - 08-04-2004, 11:10 PM
[No subject] - by Dan Gan - 08-05-2004, 06:11 AM
[No subject] - by Rob - 08-05-2004, 11:09 AM
[No subject] - by Dan Gan - 08-07-2004, 06:57 AM

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