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Christians Targeted Ahead Of Elections

Adel Kamal
Um Korkis held back her pain and told her story to the police station officer. Through a half open door, she apprehensively told the story of two young men leaving a handcart in front of the church, a few metres…
25.02.2010  |  Mosul

This was the first bloody incident that targeted Christians in Mosul this year. Three died and four were wounded in the blast and the Mar Tomas Syriac Orthodox Church in Old Mosul suffered severe damage. Many houses in that neighborhood were also destroyed.

A few hours later, police discovered the body of a young Christian man North of Mosul. Then, a Christian teacher was murdered at home in the West of the city. Another church was targeted at Al-Shifa' area by two booby-trapped vehicles.

“Panic gripped the Christians there and families were seen heading towards Karkoush and Bartalah [two Christian towns] in Mosul," said a police officer. "Others took the road to Syria, while others decided not to leave their homes and prevented their children from going to schools or the university in Mosul. Officials were also asked not to leave their homes until the crises subsided.” He added.

After an emergency meeting in late January, attended by Christian archbishops, Muslim religious scholars and tribal chiefs, a statement was released through Friday prayers and through lectures at schools and universities calling for: “tolerance and cohesion among the various communities in the city,”

A break in the violence that followed was broken a few days later when the body of Adnan al-Dahhan was found after anonymous militants abducted him. Adnan, a father of four, was kidnapped from his shop. His Syriac Orthodox family did not alert authorities as they expected a ransom demand, having had the same thing happen to other relatives in previous months.

“We were shocked when we heard that Adnan was found shot dead,” said a family member who wished to remain nameless.

More violence followed. A Christian woman was shot in her house, and Christian students and workers targeted while on their way to schools and jobs.

The recent incidents prompted the Naynawa Archbishops Council to demand that local and central government investigate the assaults and reveal the perpetrators.

“We have been made to feel personae non grata in Mosul, our native city, where the stones bear testimony to the toil of our ancestors in building its mosques, its hospitals and earlier its churches. Despite the large contribution of Christians to all aspects of life and creativity in Iraq, we find ourselves rewarded with exclusion, marginalisation and intimidation,” said their statement.

The most recent attacks on Christians took place on Tuesday, 23 February when unidentified militants stormed a house West of Mosul, killing a father and two of his children.

“The slain man was an old person whose son – a priest – was abducted two years ago and released after a ransom was paid,” said a police source.

Following the Archbishops’ memorandum, the Naynawa governor, Osama al-Nujaifi, ordered the Naynawa Operations Command to restore security in Mosul. He called on the army command to “shoulder their responsibilities for protecting the Christian community and disclosing the results of the criminal investigations regarding the crimes committed against them.”

Al-Nujaifii told Niqash that after the earlier attacks on Christians he asked the Operations Command to set-up a joint security. They responded curtly: “Security is our responsibility.”

“In that case,” al-Nujaifi said, “They must take that responsibility and restore security.”

The Kurds in the area have boycotted the Governorate Council since al-Nujaifi took office and the governor sees the violence as politically motivated,

“There are sides wanting to draw the Christians into a conflict that they are not part of.”

The conflict he is referring to is between the Arab al-Hadba list, which al-Nujaifi heads, and the Kurdish List. Like al-Nujaifi, the Deputy Chairman of Naynawa Governorate Council, Dildar Zaybari, refused to accuse the Kurds.

“The sides taking advantage of intimidating the Christians and forcing them out of their houses and homes must be disclosed,” he demanded. “The purpose seems to be centered on creating an impression that the situation in Mosul does not allow a peaceful coexistence among its constituents.”

However, he demanded that Naynawa’s security authorities appear before the Council to explain what they have done to stop Sectarian violence in Mosul in recent months. So far, he has received no explanation.

A Christian clergyman, who refused to be named, also claimed the motivation to be political.

“Before any elections in the country, Christians are targeted,” he said “The people behind these acts send a bloody message to us calling us to shun the ballot boxes.”

His views were echoed by Omar Hashim, a preacher at a mosque near the Mar Tomas Church.

“We have lived in harmony for hundreds of years and the Christians are the original inhabitants of Mosul. They built its civilisation. What happened is the result of political and electoral agendas, aimed to divide us,” he said.

Many Christians live in towns outside of Mosul, having moved there in large numbers with the deteriorating security situation in the area, especiallly after the collapse of the police force there in November 2005, when militant groups completely controlled the city.

At that time, two young Christian men were murdered and the video of the killing released in Mosul, causing an exodus of Christians from the city.

Commenting on this and the new incidents, Bahnam Saleem, a journalist who writes about the conditions of Christians, said, “Years ago, popular and media condemnation took on a low-key status for fear of being targeted by armed groups. Today, condemnation has been more open and the feeling of indignation has been carried by the media tools day after day.”

He adds, however, that “awareness did not generally help hundreds of Christian university students to return to their study; neither did it help workers back to their offices.”

Nagham Yacoub, a Christian bank employee, said she had leave from work until after the election and that her younger brother was also granted leave from school. She added she was absolutely certain things would come to an end on March 7, 2010, the date on which voting is scheduled. “I am not sure this sort of thing will not happen again in future elections,” she concluded.