'Religicide' in Iraq
A ringing doorbell at the Baghdad home of an elderly Christian couple seemed innocent enough five days after Christmas. But when Fawzi Rahim, 76, and wife Janet Mekha, 78, opened their front door, a bomb exploded and took their lives.
The suspected militant attack was one of several on December 30, 2010, when 14 other Christians in Baghdad were seriously injured in their homes. The violence followed the October 31 attack on a Baghdad Syriac Catholic cathedral that killed 68 people, and a declaration by the Islamic State of Iraq, a terrorist group, that it was waging war on Christians.
The militant group claims that Egypt's Coptic Church is holding two women captive because they converted to Islam. Coptic leaders deny the allegations. Analysts believe the militants are using the "Egyptian women" as a pretext to attack Iraq's besieged Christian community.
Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom, labeled the attacks a "ruthless cleansing campaign by Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish militants." U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner called on the government of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to swiftly "apprehend the terrorists behind these acts."
Pope Benedict XVI condemned the growing campaign against Christians in the Middle East in his New Year's Day homily: "In the face of the threatening tensions of the moment, especially in the face of discrimination, of abuse of power and religious intolerance that today particularly strikes Christians, I again direct a pressing invitation not to yield to discouragement and resignation." Benedict made these remarks hours after a car bomb outside a church in Alexandria, Egypt, killed 23 people.
The Vatican has repeatedly denounced the campaign against Christians in Iraq.
The United Nations agency for refugees in Iraq has recorded a significant increase in the number of Christians fleeing Baghdad and Mosul and heading for the northern Kurdistan Regional Government region and the northwestern Nineveh region. By the end of December 2010, more than 1,000 people had recently left these cities.
Although the Kurds are Muslims, they suffered severe discrimination under Saddam Hussein's regime. They now have an autonomous, Western-supported homeland in northern Iraq. Iraqi President Talabani, a Kurd, has gone so far as to suggest a similar homeland for Iraq's Christians. While many say the idea is a pipe dream, there remains a group of solidly Christian villages—including Banayeh, Telqais, Telleskof, and Merdi—some 25 miles outside of Mosul that are still considered safe; they are guarded by the Kurdish Peshmerga troops.
In Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon, the U.N. refugee agency's offices also report an increasing number of Iraqi Christians arriving and contacting the agency for registration and help. Updated numbers are not available.
Last year, Nellie, a 23-year-old Iraqi Christian, fled to neighboring Jordan from her native Baghdad after she was kidnapped and raped and then freed after her family paid a hefty ransom. Further traumatized after thieves tried to break into her tiny Amman apartment, Nellie (not her real name) can hardly count the days until she leaves for the United States, where she will be reunited with her mother and brother under a resettlement program.
Targeted by insurgents and Muslim militants since the 2003 war, a large percent-age of Iraq's ancient Christian population have fled their conflict-ridden country. Many fear that Iraq's centuries-old Christian community is on the verge of extinction.