Christians continue to flee northern Iraq

October 17th, 2008 - 9:46 am ICT by IANS  

Baghdad, Oct 17 (DPA) The deportation of Iraqi Christians from their homes in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul has been all too familiar over the past week after several were murdered.”The forced displacement is an awful scene, because it affects the social fabric of our country,” said Pascal Warda, a human rights activist.

“The exodus of Christians from Mosul these days is very organised compared to what used to happen in Iraq during the years that followed the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, as it comes at a time when the government is imposing control over vast areas of the country,” Warda told DPA.

Over the past two weeks, at least 12 Christians have been murdered in Mosul and thousands have fled the city after recent threats scared them and forced them to leave their homes and jobs.

The rise in the attacks has coincided with major demonstrations by Christian groups protesting the removal of Article 50 from the provincial elections law, which was approved by the Presidential Council last week.

“Armed groups and militias threaten Christian families to leave immediately or else be killed - something that has blackened the file of Iraqi democracy. This is why the government should work hard to stop it,” said Warda, the second displacement and migration minister since the US-lead invasion in 2003.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is sending seven ministers to Mosul city to review the crisis and help displaced Christian families. Meanwhile, the interior ministry has increased the number of police in the city to protect the Christian neighbourhoods.

“More than one million Christians have migrated from Iraq after being harassed. More than 40 percent of all Iraqis who fled abroad during the past five years are minorities,” said Warda, a mother of two.

Various communities such as Christians, Shias and Kurds live in Mosul along with the Sunni majority. The city is also historically a centre for the Nestorian Christianity of the Assyrians, and is the site of the tombs of several Old Testament prophets such as Jonah, Yunus in Arabic, and Nahum.

“What is happening in Mosul these days - the targeting of innocent people - grieves me deeply. I think it is a step backwards for democracy and a clear violation of human rights,” said Warda.

The heads of churches in Mosul have meanwhile called on their followers to stay calm, urging the media to stop stirring up sectarian tension. They also called on Muslim scholars to increase efforts to calm the situation and urge citizens to respect principles of religious freedom, according to a statement quoted by the Voices of Iraq (VOI) news agency.

“We Christians have always lived with, and continue to coexist with, our Muslim brothers in the same country, in a climate of peace and fraternity and a spirit of affection and cooperation,” the statement added.

Iraqi Christians constitute some 636,000 of the Iraqi population. Most speak an ancient Aramaic dialect. They live in the northern provinces of Arbil, Nineveh and Dahuk.

The head of the Shia Endowments Authority expressed concern over the repeated acts of violence targeting Christians in Mosul, according to a statement released by the authority.

The head of the Christian Endowments Authority, Abdullah Harmaz al-Noufali, said that a Christian delegation would arrive in Najaf city next week to meet with the top Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistanti, noting that the visit has already been scheduled before the outbreak of the Mosul violence.

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