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Iraq: No Longer Safe

Recent attacks on Christian-owned businesses in northern Iraq’s Kurdish region have put believers on edge in an area that was formerly considered safe for Christians.

In a sermon on Dec. 2, 2011, Mullah Mala Ismail Osman Sindi complained of moral corruption in the northern town of Zakho. Incited by the sermon, a Muslim man stood up afterward and called out the names of Christian-owned businesses. A group of young men then marched to Zakho carrying banners declaring “There is no God but Allah.” They attacked and burned about 30 businesses, most owned by Christians. The men also tried to attack a Christian neighborhood in Zakho, but they were stopped by authorities. A VOM team in the region had to evacuate quickly.

Violence erupted again the following morning, Dec. 3, in two Christian neighborhoods on the outskirts of Dohuk, where Muslims attacked liquor stores and burned a Christian cultural club. Two days later, on Dec. 5, smaller incidents of violence against Christian communities were reported near the Kurdish capital of Erbil and in the center of Sulaymaniyah, 124 miles to the south.

“The interesting thing with this incident is the place where it happened,” said Emanuel Youkhana, an archdeacon of the Assyrian Church of the East. “[The Kurdish Regional Government] is, for the most part, safe and secure, and all inhabitants enjoy prosperity and security, until now at least. The future is, by all means, bleak for Christians and other minorities living there.”

Local sources said the attacks were organized by a pro-Islamic party influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood. The attacks reflect a growing attitude of intolerance among many Muslims in Iraq. Kaldo Oghanna, the general secretary of the Chaldo-Assyrian Student and Youth Union, said the attacks threaten the Kurdish region’s stability and safety.

“This attack is not a normal attack,” Oghanna said. “It threatened our businesses, and it is threatening the situation in Kurdistan. They attacked the democracy of the Kurdish region, its safety and security. Of course, we think these are international and domestic influences that made this situation escalate, but we also think this is in the mentality of those people, that they do not tolerate those who are different. This is our real struggle.”

Kurdistan had long been a region of safety for Christians in Iraq. Thousands had moved to the region from elsewhere in Iraq during the conflict. The vicar of St. George’s Church in Baghdad, Canon Andrew White, told VOM partner Release International, “We had placed so much hope on the fact that there was one place in Iraq where Christians could find security and a future. That place was Dohuk.

“Sadly, with the violence in the last few days, this hope has now gone. People are petrified and are saying, ‘What happens to us now?’ Will we stand with them and support them in this great difficulty? Faith shines a light into the darkness, hope into despair, gives a future where there is no future.”

Sources: Compass Direct News, Release International

Posted: December 16, 2011

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