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The lethal attacks on five churches in Iraq violated the stated will of the prophet Muhammad, who in the 7th century issued a Firman —or letter of protection — for Assyrian Christians.

Assyrians make up the majority of the 700,000 Christians in present-day Iraq. Muhammad was so impressed with their ancestors' knowledge of medicine and the sciences that he decreed for them to be left in peace, according to Albert Yelda, formerly the Christian representative in the leadership of the London-based Iraqi National Congress.

The Firman disappeared without trace in 1847, Yelda told United Press International. Assyrians believe that the then-Turkish rulers destroyed this document before setting out to kill 30,000 Christians.

Joseph Yacoub, a political science professor at the Catholic University of Lyon, France, fears that the coordinated car bombings of churches may accomplish what Muhammad had tried to prevent. "There exists a definite risk that the Christian presence will be reduced to a level of insignificance," he told the French newspaper, Le Figaro.

"So far there had just been attacks on Christian individuals," this leading expert on Middle Eastern Christianity continued. "But now the bombers have taken on the entire community. Their message is clear: This is Muslim territory; it does not belong to you."

Thus one of the most remarkable set of Christians is once again threatened with extinction. The Assyrians, of whom there are 1.5 million worldwide, are descendants of one of the oldest civilizations: Mesopotamia. Almost three millennia ago, they excelled in astronomy, jurisprudence, the arts, architecture, medicine, and the natural sciences.

Assyrians were the first nation to adopt Christianity as their state religion ...

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