Muslim extremists bombed five churches in Baghdad on 16 October in the second attack on the Christian community in the past three months.
No casualties were reported in the pre-dawn blasts, which struck churches across the capital over the course of an hour at the start of the holy month of Ramadan. But the attacks have been seen as a final straw by Iraq’s Christian and have lead to calls for the creation of safe havens in Iraq to protect families from mounting hostility.
The first bomb exploded at the church of Saint Joseph at about 4am local time and was followed by similar explosions outside four other churches. Flames engulfed the Roman Catholic church of St George in the central Baghdad district of Karrada.
In August, similar bomb attacks against five churches in Baghdad killed 11 and injured more than 50.
Patriarch Emmanuel Delly III of Baghdad, the head of the country’s 700,000-strong Chaldean Church, said there was nothing the tiny minority could do against such strikes.
The Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq denounced the attacks against the churches, according to al-Jazeera, the Arabic television station.
Church sources in Mosul have meanwhile told the Fides missionary news agency that life for the country’s indigenous Christian minority is becoming increasingly intolerable.
“Christians live in constant fear of being attacked, kidnapped and killed by radical Islamic groups,” reported an Iraqi Catholic nun.
Christians are an easy target because they do not react with violence, and are mostly unarmed, the nun added.
Speaking from Mosul, Fr Nizar Semaan, a parish priest, said “fundamentalist criminals” were continuing to attack the churches. “There are two options for Christians. Either we leave our country,” he said, “or we stay and are massacred.”
Fr Semaan appealed to Christians around the world. “Even if you are watching at a distance, do you feel solidarity or only pity? Couldn’t you do something more?”
The National Review, an influential neo-conservative publication in the United States, last week appealed to the Bush administration to create a “safe haven” within Iraq specifically for Iraq’s estimated 700,000 Christians, 40,000 of whom are believed to have fled for safety in neighbouring Syria and Jordan since the war began.
The creation of such a zone, which is contemplated under the interim constitution approved by the American-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) earlier this year, could curb the growing exodus and might even persuade some who left to return, according to the author, Nina Shea, the director of Freedom House’s Centre for Religious Freedom.
“The community needs American help to create a district which should encompass the traditional community villages located near Mosul, in the Nineveh Plains”, wrote Shea.
She also called on the State Department to begin providing reconstruction aid directly to the Christian community in the region, and not just to Arab and Kurdish groups living in the region.
Describing the Chaldean community as “the canaries in the coal mine for the Great Middle East,” Shea said the treatment of Christians are in the new Iraq “is being watched closely by Maronites of Lebanon, the Copts of Egypt, and other non-Muslim populations in the region.”