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Christians in Iraq urged not to leave

16 July 2009

by Gerald Butt, Middle East Correspondent

Charred remains: an Iraqi policeman stands outside a church in Baghdad after a car-bomb attack on Monday PA

Charred remains: an Iraqi policeman stands outside a church in Baghdad after a car-bomb attack on Monday PA

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.”

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