While the situation is gradually returning to normal in Mosul, which after Baghdad has become a focal point of violent attacks against Christians, the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Emil Shimoun Nona told Newsmax that Christians continue to live in fear.
The Oct. 31 attack on Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad that killed 58 worshippers and wounded 100 more, was followed by targeted assassinations of Christians in Mosul that drove many to flee for safety to outlying towns in the Nineveh Plain.
|Mourning at Our Lady of Salvation
Most of those families are poor and quickly exhausted their savings, and have now returned to Mosul to go back to their jobs. “Although they are trying to live normally, their lives are not like the others,” Nona said. “There is always the fear. They know that they are targets.”
While we were speaking, the archbishop had to take a phone call from his office back in Mosul, informing him that an IED (improvised explosive device) had just gone off at the front gate of the University of Mosul.
More than 1,000 Christians make the dangerous trip every day to attend Mosul University, traveling in convoys of buses from nearby villages in the Nineveh Plain. More than 240 Christian students were wounded and a local shopkeeper was killed when a convoy was hit by an IED and car bomb attack last May. Several unexploded car bombs and IEDs disguised in plastic garbage bags have been found since then by university security guards near the buses and the entry gates to the university.
“We need our own institutions,” Nona told Newsmax.
Christians living in northern Iraq have no hospital or university they can access without running the gauntlet of jihadi terrorists or Kurdish security officers who constantly monitor and intimidate the population.
Just recently in Karakosh, the largest city in the Nineveh Plain, the U.S. military helped Kurdish security forces erect barriers blocking both ends of the main street leading to the only health clinic in the area, making it impossible for residents to reach it by vehicle.
“We need our own schools, our own hospital,” Nona said. “The U.S. Congress can help a lot.”
Louis Ayoub, who represents the Hammurabi Human Rights Organization in the Nineveh Plain, told Newsmax in a separate interview in Karakosh that his organization is pushing for the creation of a new university in the Hamdaniya area that includes Karakosh, and for a 400-bed hospital to be built there.
“We already have the land for the hospital and have the design plans for the university,” he said. “Now we are waiting for government approvals so we can seek the funding.”
United States Agency for International Development (USAID) approved a project for the Iraqi central government to build four 400-bed hospitals several years ago, but the projects have been blocked because of political squabbles among the major Iraqi political parties, each seeking to divide the spoils.
Nona thanked international Christian groups for offers of help. “We need more than just prayers,” he said. “Because in too many cases, all they offer are their prayers and nothing else.”
The archbishop highlighted the lack of media coverage of the persecution and the ill-treatment Christians encounter every day. “If world public opinion knew this, politicians in America could influence Iraq’s politicians to keep us out of their political struggle, since a major part of our problem is the political struggle amongst the Iraqi parties.”
Iraqi Christians living in the Nineveh Plain live under daily harassment from the Kurdish security forces, known as As-Sayeesh, who not only control access to Christian towns and villages but movement inside the Christian areas.
“I’m not denying there are religious extremists,” Nona said, “but definitely, these Islamic fundamentalists are being used by politicians, so it’s a mix.”
Many secular Christian leaders in the Nineveh Plain this week said they believed that Kurdish security forces were responsible for the kidnapping and murder of Nona’s predecessor, Paulos Faraj Rahho, since they controlled the area where he was abducted. Rahho was an outspoken advocate for Christian rights.
Rahho was kidnapped on Feb. 29, 2008, after saying mass at the very church in Mosul where Archbishop Emil celebrated the final service of the three-day ceremony of repentance known as the Rogation of the Ninevites on Wednesday.
Rahho’s car was ambushed by 14 vehicles, including official security vehicles, and his body was founded in a shallow grave outside Mosul two weeks later. The Iraqi government blamed his murder on jihadi Muslim terrorists.
“There won’t be a 100 percent extinction of Christians in Iraq . . . But we have additional problems today because we are so few,” Nona said. “Even with this small number, we are trying to live and represent Christianity, to live out our Christian testimony.”
Nona said that the influence of Christians has historically far exceeded their small numbers. Some 1.6 million Christians, roughly 5.7 percent of the population, lived in Iraq before the ouster of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Fewer than 500,000 Christians remain today, driven into exile by extremist violence and targeted ethnic cleansing.
“There are some [Iraqi political] parties who are trying to aide the Christians, but they want to use the Christians for their own political purpose,” Nona told Newsmax.
“Christians now feel that they are weak,” he added. “If they have this kind of institution, they will feel stronger, like other groups in Iraq. If they feel more powerful, they will want to stay in Iraq.”
Otherwise, he said, more Christians will leave when the next round of killing begins. “Things never really go back to normal.”
Nona urged U.S. leaders to lean on the Maliki government to resolve its own power-sharing problems. “Congress can put pressure on the government in Iraq to help resolve the security problems, the political problems, the economic and financial problems. If the situation in Iraq as a whole improves, the situation for Christians will improve.”
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