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Christians persecuted in Iraq

By Paul Titus

One of the unreported consequences of the war in Iraq is the persecution of the country’s Christian minority. Christian priests are being abducted and murdered while Christian people are being forced to convert to Islam or flee their homes.

Father Aprem Pithyou is a member of Wellington’s Assyrian community and a minister in the Ancient Church of the East. Aprem says in early June insurgents attacked a priest and three deacons in the city of Mosul as they drove home from Sunday evening mass. They assassinated the four and then planted landmines around the car to kill those who would come to collect their bodies. The people recognised the danger and alerted the National Guard, who removed the mines.

Two months before that incident, another priest was abducted and beheaded. Those committing these atrocities are mostly Sunni Muslim extremists.

“These are not the first clergy killed in Iraq. Since 2003 hundreds of Christian people have been killed there. The insurgents threaten our people either to convert to Islam or to leave the country with empty hands. Otherwise they will be killed,” Aprem says.

Aprem says Dora is a suburb of Baghdad with a large percentage of Christian residents. Most of the churches in Dora have been destroyed, most Christians have left, and those who remain are very very afraid.

“Many of the Christians who have left have gone north to Kurdistan. The minister of finance there is Christian and he has helped our people but it is difficult to provide help to all of them.

“Our people are forced to leave their native country. We are the indigenous people of Iraq and the descendents of the Assyrian, Chaldean, Sumerian, and Akedean people who ruled the country for thousands of years before the Arabic people arrived there. We don't want to see Iraq emptied of Christians because it was the cradle of civilization and Christianity.

“I was a soldier for eight and a half years during the war between Iraq and Iran and other Christians served the army too. I had good Muslim friends in the battle unit. We were friends with other Iraqis. Since the American people invaded Iraq that all changed.”

There are four Christian churches in Iraq, according to Aprem. They are the Chaldean Church (which is Roman Catholic), the Syriac Church, and two branches of the Assyrian Church of the East. The liturgy of the Church of the East is in Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke.

Aprem says governments around the world have condemned the treatment of Christians in Iraq and the Pope sent condolences to the churches in Iraq for the murder of their priests.

He asks other organisations and churches in New Zealand to condemn criminal attacks on Iraqi Christians.