Christian minorities fear reprisals over Iraq
Vulnerable Christian minorities in Iraq and across the Islamic world are living with the fear of reprisals from Islamic extremists who associate them with the ëChristianí West a Christian campaign group has said.
The Barnabas Fund which works to support persecuted Christians points out that "hundreds of Christians died in revenge attacks following the war in Afghanistan eighteen months ago raising fears about the current crisis."
Christian leaders fear it would only take one small spark ñ an aggressive anti-Christian sermon preached in a mosque, or an argument between a Christian and a Muslim neighbour ñ to trigger violent attacks on churches and Christian homes.
To date no such incidents have occurred despite the pressures on the Iraqi people at the end of the first week of war.
Many Christians have left Baghdad to return to their ancestral homelands in the north of Iraq until the war is over. Others have fled into Syria.
ìThe churches, however, will stay open, regardless of what happens, to guarantee at any time shelter for allî according to Archbishop Jean Benjamin Sleiman.
The fund reports that Christians in Baghdad have been sheltering in churches, finding support and encouragement.
In the twelve years since the end of the first Gulf War the Christian population of Iraq dropped dramatically from 1.5 million to 700,000 as Christians fled the country under the combined pressures of Saddam Husseinís regime, UN sanctions and hostility from their Muslim neighbours.
Tension for Christians increased markedly during the war in Afghanistan when some were deliberately discriminated against in the distribution of food rations, being derided as ìCrusadersî and told to ask America for food instead.
The situation has now become so bad that many Christians dare not openly wear crosses in public for fear that this would make them a target.
A number of violent incidents have occurred in recent months including the brutal murder and decapitation of a Christian nun by a Muslim mob. As the war drags on Christians fear that they could become the victims of further such violent attacks on a much larger scale.