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(va AINA) Iran-backed militias have seized homes, businesses and cultural sites, including churches belonging to Baghdad’s Christian communities, forcing individuals to resettle and forfeit all their belongings, according to members of the Christian members of the Iraqi Parliament.The militias have targeted properties belonging to Christians, forcing individuals to leave the area, according to Christian community leaders, including representatives from the Assyrian, Chaldean and Syriac minorities, as well as the Chaldean Patriarch of Iraq who have condemned the attacks, calling them a form of ethnic cleansing aimed to rid Baghdad of its Christians.
“Their claim is that the property of a non-Christian is halal, meaning it can be seized,” Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sacco said in an interview with the pan-Arab daily Al Hayat.
According to leaders, the seizures have been carried out in the upscale regions of Baghdad, where militia men have forced entry into homes and businesses with falsified documents.
“We are begging, once again, appealing to the conscience of government officials and authorities from Sunni and Shiite states in order to do something meaningful to safeguard the life and dignity and property of all Iraqis, because they are human,” Sacco said.
The news was confirmed by Tom Harb, the co-chair of the Middle East Christian Committee, MECHRIC, who said Middle East Christian NGOs have long been reporting from Baghdad and Erbil that the Iranian-backed militias are pushing the Christians south of the areas controlled by ISIS, including Baghdad.
The paradox in U.S. foreign policy is that the current administration has shown a policy of partnering with Iran’s regime and even releasing the funds to the regime to back these militia, while at the same time creating conditions on the ground in Iraq where they can ethnically cleanse the Christian community, Dr. Walid Phares, who is an advisor to members of the U.S. Congress, said to The Foreign Desk.
In other words, Washington is backing and funding the ethnic cleansing of Christian minorities in Iraq, Phares said.
Iraq’s Christians are considered to be one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, with their villages concentrated in Baghdad, Basra, Erbil and Kirkuk. The Assyrians had made the towns and regions around the Nineveh Plains in the north home, until ISIS forced them out.
In 2014, the Islamic State announced that all Christians under its territories must pay a minority tax, or Jizzyah, of approximately $500 per family, convert to Islam or be put to death. Later, the decree was revoked and Christians no longer had the option of staying and paying a tax. They either had to leave the Caliphate or die.
At that time, Christian homes and properties were marked with the Arabic letter N, or nun, for Nassarah, meaning ‘Christian’ in Arabic.
According to Sacco, there are no Christians left in Mosul for the first time in Iraq’s history.
“In the long run, the U.S. should help establish an autonomous area for the Assyrians, Chaldeans and Syriacs in their homeland Nineveh Plains, near Mosul and help the Yazidis establish their own area in Sinjar,” Phares said.
At the same time, Phares recommends Washington demand more from its partner, Iraq, who receives aid, funding and training to evacuate militias, to now protect the empty homes and return Christians to Baghdad.
Assyrian International News Agency (AINA) is reporting that On December 25, 2013 multiple news agencies, including AINA, reported the twin bombings in Dora, a formerly Assyrian [also known as Chaldean and Syriac] and Christian neighborhood in southern Baghdad. One bombing occurred outside of St. John Catholic Church. The explosion killed 27 and wounded 56. A second bomb exploded in an outdoor market, killing 11 and wounding 21.
According to the wire reports, dozens of Christians were killed in the bombings.
AFP quoted a police colonel, saying “The attack targeted the church, and most of the martyrs are Christians. The attack happened when worshippers were leaving the church.”
Reuters quoted a policeman, saying “A car parked near the church exploded when the families were hugging each other goodbye before leaving. The blast was powerful…Bodies of women, girls and men were lying on the ground covered in blood. Others were screaming and crying while they were trying to save some of their wounded relatives.”
The Patriarch of the Chaldean Church, H.H. Louis Sako, issued a statement saying the attack was not directly targeted at the church. Also, Archdeacon Temathius Esha, an Assyrian priest in Dora, told AFP “The church has nothing to do with the attack, the attack was against the market.”
There is no doubt that these bombings occurred and that dozens of persons were killed. But questions were raised about the number of Assyrian/Christian fatalities, beginning with Patriarch Sako’s statement.
AINA contacted two Assyrians in Iraq to ascertain the facts of the case.
According to Pascale Warda, Iraq’s former Minister of Displacement and Migration, no attacks against churches occurred and there were no Christian casualties. “What some media reported was not right because the attack in Dora was in the market, where some other poor people were wounded, but not a single Christian was hurt, and no church was attacked.”
The priest of St. John Catholic Church, Fr. Firas, told Pascale Warda the attack was far from the church and no there were no Assyrian casualties. Fr. Tima, of the Assyrian Church in Dora, also told Mrs. Warda that his church had not been attacked.
The Christmas mass at St. John ended at 9 AM, the attack occurred at 11 AM.
According to Susan Patto, an Assyrian in Baghdad, because of previous church attacks, all churches have discontinued midnight mass and conduct mass very early in the morning, from 7 to 9 AM, and parishioners are discouraged from congregating outside the church after mass.
“The explosion happened after 11 AM.’ says Suan Patto, “There is a police station about 500 meters from St. John, and the car bomb targeted the police station. The church was closed and no one was there. The story about the church being attacked was first reported by Al-Sharqiya news channel and picked up by other news agencies. Most of fatalities were in the second explosion in the market, while the targeted police station had only few casualties. There are no known Assyrian casualties.”
According to Pascale Warda, the news of Christian casualties was propagated by those “who are unhappy with any establishment of security in Iraq.”
The Dora neighborhood was formerly a Christian neighborhood, with over 150,000 Assyrians living there. Beginning in 2004 a sustained series of church bombings, kidnappings and killings by Al-Qaeda affiliated groups forced most the residents to flee, most with literally just the clothes they wore, as they were not allowed to take any of their belongings with them (report). Now there are only about 3000 Assyrians remaining in Dora.
73 churches have been attacked or bombed since June, 2004: 45 in Baghdad, 19 in Mosul, 8 in Kirkuk and 1 in Ramadi.
On October 31, 2010 Al-Qaeda terrorists attacked Our Lady of Deliverance Chaldean Catholic Church in Baghdad on Sunday evening during a church service. When police raided the church the terrorists set fire to their explosives, ultimately killing 58 parishioners, including two priests (reports, pictures).
(Morning Star News) – Government and church officials in Iraq refuted initial claims by police that bombs in southern Baghdad targeted Christians, saying no worshippers leaving a nearby church were hurt.
A car bomb that went off near St. John Catholic Church in the Doura area of Baghdad on Dec. 25 as worshippers were leaving Mass targeted a market, not the church, according to Interior Minister spokesman Saad Maan. News portal RT reported that Iraqi Chaldean Catholic Church Bishop Louis Sako also said the church was not the target, and that none of the departing worshippers were injured.
Police had initially reported that the blast killed 27 worshippers after the Christmas Day service, and that another bomb detonated in a market in the city’s Christian area left 11 people dead, according to press reports. RT reported that the church attack did take place in a Christian area and that most of the 26 people killed were Christians.
Two other roadside bombs in an outdoor market in the Doura area did kill 11 people and wounded 21 others, according to RT, noting that Maan’s statement contained the conflicting information that those blasts killed 35 people and injured 56 others.
The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad condemned the violence, according to CNN, saying in a statement that Christians in Iraq have suffered terrorist attacks for many years, along with other Iraqis.
“The United States abhors all such attacks and is committed to its partnership with the Government of Iraq to combat the scourge of terrorism,” according to the statement.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks, but Sunni Muslim extremists from Al Qaeda have targeted Iraqis Christians, according to Reuters. Two Christian security guards were wounded in a June 25 church attack in Baghdad, and in 2010 an Islamic extremist attack on Our Lady of Salvation Syriac Catholic Church in the city killed 58 people.
Thousands of members of religious minorities have fled the country in the past 10 years, with the Christian population dropping from about 1.4 million to fewer than 500,000 today.
Jewish human rights group on Thursday condemned Christmas Day attacks on Christians in Baghdad that left at least 37 people dead.
At least 37 people were killed in bomb attacks in Christian areas of Baghdad on Christmas and dozens of other injured, some by a car bomb near a church after a service.
“That these religious celebrations in Iraq turned into carnage was entirely predictable as Al Qaeda and other Islamist terrorists have labeled Iraqi Christians as heretics,” charged Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Associate Dean of the Center. “Indeed, Iraqi security forces were posted at churches, whose worshippers braved the threat of death to mark the holiest day on their calendar. We call on the United States and the EU to take the lead in committing to protect religious minorities wherever they dwell. The civilized world’s overwhelming silence and inaction only guarantees more innocent victims in 2014,” Cooper continued.
“While the year 2013 has seen a gradual descent into hell for an Iraq under siege by Islamists,” observed Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, the Center’s Director of Interfaith Affairs. “It has meant slipping into the seventh circle for Christians, whose ranks have already been decimated by years of sustained attacks against its historic Christian communities. The world must recognize that the unfettered suppression of religious minorities in Iraq – and Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria – continues to grow. It will spill over to other countries unless the world moves to make the safeguarding of religious expression a core policy goal. The trampling of this fundamental human right devalues all of civilization – believer and atheist alike.”
Earlier this year, during a private Simon Wiesenthal Center audience with Pope Francis, Center dean and founder Rabbi Marvin Hier told the Pope that he has an ally in his efforts to protect persecuted religious minorities, including endangered Christian communities.
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At least 34 people died in bomb attacks in Christian areas on Wednesday.
For centuries, Iraq has been home to a small but thriving community of Christians. Speaking the same Arabic language as their Muslim neighbours, they can be found in nearly every Iraqi city, and have traditionally prospered as doctors, teachers and academics.
But ten years on the fall of Saddam Hussein, their numbers have dwindled from more than a million to as little as 200,000. Churches have been bombed by Islamic extremists, while the prosperity that the Christian community was seen to enjoy has seen them frequently targeted by kidnappers.
Altogether, 62 churches have been attacked in the decade, and around 1,000 Christians have been killed, according to senior Iraqi churchmen. They have warned that a time may come when there are no longer any Christians in Iraq at all.
In this special report from Baghdad, Telegraph correspondent Colin Freeman and cameraman Julian Simmonds report on new efforts to stem the Christian exodus.
An increase in violence against Christians in northern Iraq has increased the flow of Christians leaving the country.
The north, generally considered a relatively safe area of the country, had become home for many Christians fleeing from the tumultuous central and southern regions.
However, several bombings in the north in recent months have caused panic among the Christian community.
On September 22, a suicide bomb went off outside the home of Christian politician Emad Youhanna in Rafigayn, part of the Kirkuk province, injuring 19 people, including three of Youhanna’s children.
Several bomb attacks have also taken place in the northern city of Erbil, for which Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility.
In early September, Christians in the village of Deshtakh complained that they were facing harassment from local police.
A group of Christian young people said that policemen told them that they “should not be in Iraq because it is Muslim territory”.
Violence in the south of the country is also escalating. Church leaders in Baghdad say that there are attacks on Christians every two or three days.
A spokesperson for Open Doors, a Christian charity which supports Christians under pressure for their faith, said that although many Christians are still choosing to stay, the fear is that if the violence continues, they may decide they have little choice but to leave.
“It remains urgent to pray for the future of Christianity in this country,” he said. “If the present trend continues, there might be no Christian left in the whole of Iraq by 2020.”
Some commentators look back to December 2011 as a turning point for Christians in Iraq, following a number of attacks on Christian-owned shops.
Since that time, the violence against Christians in the Kurdish north has increased, with Christians being kidnapped and killed in an area once considered relatively safe.
In March 2012, an American teacher was killed in Sulaymaniyah, which provided another shock for the Christian community.
Meanwhile, the local Kurdish government has discussed ways to monitor Christian activities and accused many English teachers from the West of being Christian missionaries. It is now much harder for Westerners to receive work permits in the country.
Christians in Iraq are a clearly identifiable group. Many wear crosses or have Christian symbols on the gates of their homes.
Iraq is No. 4 on the World Watch List, which ranks the 50 countries in which Christians are most under pressure for their faith.
“Christians in Iraq are on the verge of extinction. Large numbers of persecuted Christians have fled abroad or to the (until recently) safer Kurdish region, where they face unemployment and inadequate schooling, medical care and housing. The church faces many challenges – members being killed or abducted, and a lack of capable leaders,”
reports the World Watch List.