Iraqi Christians fear Easter attacks
Iraqi Christians have said they fear that they may be subject to attacks over the Easter period.
In particular Chaldean Christians fear that militants will attack churches in Baghdad on Easter Sunday reports the Washington Times.
Before the invasion of Iraq, Christians were present in many areas of Iraq. Estimates suggested that there were 100,000 in the Northern No Fly Zone, including perhaps half in the City of Mosul, 100,000 scattered in the South and Hundreds of thousands in Central Iraq with significant numbers in Baghdad.
There are four main denominations in the Catholic tradition, the biggest being the Chaldean Catholic Church. This is semi-autonomous but affiliated to the Roman Catholic Church. The Chaldean branch was allowed to retain its customs and rites under Saddam Hussein's regime.
Chaldea was the name 2,000 years ago of a portion of Iraq, then part of the Persian Empire. Chaldean Christians broke from the early Christian church over the question of Jesus' divinity but were reconciled with the Roman Catholic Church in the 1670s.
"Our people are afraid of some sort of massacre on Easter. Four churches have come to us to ask about how to hire security," said Isoh Barnsavm, an officer in the Bethnahrain Patriotic Union, one of several political parties that represent segments of Iraq's Christian minority.
"Neighbours are now receiving threatening letters. Some of the threats are from unknown groups," Mr. Barnsavm said. "Others are from Ansar al-Islam," a group linked with al Qaeda that was targeted by U.S.-led forces during the war.
Late last month, the family of two murdered children received a note warning that they would be killed and "doomed to hell."
The next day, the gunman came and killed the two children, each with an AK-47 rifle shot to the head. Their mother and several other children in the house were allowed to live, presumably to tell others.
Two uncles have since moved in to protect the family one of whom pleaded with a visiting reporter for help as his eyes filled with tears.
"How can you guarantee we won't be killed? We can't sleep. We can't go out to work. We're so scared that we are carrying our guns all the time. It all happened in less than 10 seconds," the uncle said.
Mr. Barnsavm said: "There have been hundreds of attacks. Every day we hear of a new attack." He estimated that up to 200 Iraqi Christians have been killed by Muslim extremists since the war began last year.
Many have been killed while working as interpreters for the coalition, in attacks that had no apparent religious motive.
But Mr. Barnsavm says he is especially worried about incidents in which people are targeted simply because they are Christian.
Officials at the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority declined to comment to the Washington Times.
Christians in Iraq can trace their history from the time of Pentecost. Tradition has is that the Apostle Thomas arrived and Addai, the King of Assyria, repented for his people. According to Kenneth Scott Lautorette in his book ìThe History of Christianityî Assyria then became `the largest Missionary Force in History` carrying the gospel as far as China and Japan.
Currently in Iraq however, the Chaldeans are particularly upset because they are not represented on the 25-member Iraqi Governing Council, which was appointed by the chief U.S. administrator, L. Paul Bremer.
The one non-Muslim member of the council, Yonadam Kanna, represents Assyrian Christians, now the smallest of three main Christian groups.
Mr. Barnsavm said a religious war is already under way in Iraq.
"This is not just the Muslims against Christians. It's the fanatical Islamists striking the West. The Kurds near the Iranian border are being attacked by Ansar al-Islam, which says they are not real Muslims.
"But the fanatics see us as part of the West, so we become the first target inside the country," he continued.
The plight of Christians in Iraq has not been helped by US President Bush's rhetoric. Delivering a speech to announce the start of ìmilitary operationsî as the invasion of Iraq got underway, Bush asked for Godís blessing.
Saddam Hussein's government gave a measure of protection to Christians and other religious minorities. However reports suggest it is hard to find a Christian who says that they miss him.
"We are quite happy that Saddam is gone, to end the rule of such a dictator," Mr. Barnsavm said. "The attacks that are happening to us are the price we pay for a new system, ending a dictatorship and building a new system.
"We paid for these kinds of changes throughout history with our blood, every time in history there was a conflict between East and West."
The history of Christians in Iraq has not been a happy one. Oppressed by the Persians, Mongols, Turks, Kurds and Arabs, in World War I the Assyrian Church lost nearly two thirds of her population including an archbishop.