Mosul Christians Find Faith Tested: Trials, Tribulations For The Pio

By Sahar Al-Haideri

Boston Herald, MA
Aug 20 2007

MOSUL, Iraq – They have been threatened because of their religious
faith, their distinctive clothing and their success in business. They
have been killed because of a Danish cartoon depicting the Prophet

Many have sought safety by fleeing to the countryside, north to
Kurdish-controlled territory or abroad to Syria.

They have seen their churches bombed, their clergy murdered and
community members threatened with kidnappings.

The Christians of Mosul, once a substantial and predominantly
middle-class community, have suffered the same fate as most Iraqis.

Christians are hardly the only religious minority under attack, as
witnessed by this week’s coordinating bombings against members of
the Yazidis community, which left more than 250 dead.

But their religious faith has made them especially vulnerable in
a city where the rule of law is non-existent and Islamic militants
intimidate and kill with impunity.

"Life has become difficult in Mosul," said Ilham Sabah, a Christian
attorney who conceals her faith by wearing a veil. "The militants
threaten Christian women; they set them on fire or kill them if they
refuse to wear Islamic dress as Muslim women do.

"We only have one choice, and that is to flee Mosul and the hell
created by the militants," she said.

Mosul has been home to Christians of the Assyrian, Chaldean, Armenian
and Catholic churches for more than millennium. Now they are being
driven out.

Christians "are the weakest of the weak," said Joseph Kassab,
executive director of the Chaldean Federation of America, a nonprofit
organization based in Detroit. "The extremists there are highly active
. . . they want to empty Mosul of Iraqi Christians."

There were thought to be between 800,000 and 1 million Christians in
Iraq in 2003. A U.N. report in 2005 found that most lived in Mosul
and surrounding Nineveh province, although many also lived in Baghdad.

By last year, the U.N. reported that 24 percent of Iraqi refugees
living in Syria were Christians.

"Life was better under Saddam," said a 35-year-old Christian
businessman in Mosul who asked not to be identified. "I used to go out
socially and was well respected, but not anymore. In the past, there
was law and order, but now nothing stops the extremists or criminals."

Christian religious services in this city that once boasted 23 churches
have all but stopped. Those intent on continuing to practice their
faith do so in secret.

Many Muslims here say they are outraged by the disappearance of the
city’s long history of religious and ethnic tolerance.

"I and many of my friends and colleagues hurt just as much when
a Christian is murdered as when a Muslim is killed," said Salim
Abdul-Wahad, a Muslim teacher.

Kassab, of the Chaldean Federation, said the lawlessness in Mosul
today makes it hard to know who is responsible for the violence and
even whether Christians are being specifically targeted.

Since the overthrow of Saddam in 2003, the Nineveh Plains, where Mosul
is located, has become something of a refuge for many minorities
fleeing the violence in other parts of the country, including
Assyrians, Turkomen and Shabaks, in addition to Christians and Yazidis.

"The Nineveh Plain is a bit of an oasis in terms of safety, and the
main reason is because the communities really do know each other,"
said Michael Youash, project director for the Washington-based Iraq
Sustainable Democracy Project, an organization that advocates on
behalf of religious minorities in Iraq.

Some fear that the latest U.S. offensive, intended to provide security
in Baghdad and other provinces near the capital, has only served to
drive insurgents, including members of al-Qaeda of Iraq, into more
remote areas, such as those surrounding Mosul.

Unless security can be provided for everyone, many fear the Christians
of Mosul will disappear entirely.

"Most of us have fled abroad, and this is a serious concern,"
said Mosul resident Afram Abdul-Ahad, a Christian who was forced to
shut down his small restaurant. "We’re worried about the future of
Christians in Iraq."