THE Iraqi government says that it is implementing tough new measures to protect the country’s Christians, and has urged them not to leave.
The Baghdad authorities decided to take action after eight churches were targeted in what is being regarded as a systematic campaign against the minority Christian community. At least four people were killed, and more than 30 were injured in the bombings, which took place over a 48-hour period.
An Iraqi government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, said: “We will do everything within our power to prevent further attacks and ensure that our Iraqi Christian community can remain in Iraq and live peacefully. We ask them to stay.”
The government has so far declined to explain what precise measures it will take.
The Chaplain of St George’s, Baghdad, Canon Andrew White, said in a statement on Sunday that, “our church was not attacked, but we have had to increase our security, and a curfew has been imposed.”
The Bishop in Cyprus & the Gulf, the Rt Revd Michael Lewis, said on Tuesday that he was “horrified to hear of the attacks, which illustrate the fragility of the situation in Iraq for all Iraqis, but particularly for Iraqi Christians”. He said that increasing security at churches would put the Christian community under further financial strain.
The four people who were killed were at the Chaldean Church of St Mary, in eastern Baghdad. A car bomb exploded outside the church. The Chaldean Auxiliary Bishop in Baghdad, Mgr Shlemon Warduni, said that churches across Iraq had received warnings that they would be attacked. “We warned the authorities of what we feared was going to happen,” he said, “but we got no response.”
After a bomb exploded outside a church in Mosul last Sunday, police imposed a curfew. On the same day, a Christian who worked in the provincial government was killed.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks on Christian targets, nor is there an explanation why they should have happened now.
Last October, hundreds of Christians left Mosul after members of the community were killed. The fear now is that still more Christian families will decide to leave Iraq. It is estimated that about 250,000 of the original community of 800,000 have already departed.
Nevertheless, in the view of Bishop Lewis, most of the community will stay. “The vast majority of indigenous Christians I spoke to said they were determined to stay in Iraq to bear witness not just to the Christian faith, but also to their vision of a mixed Iraq. All the same, our anxieties remain high.”