Iraqi Christians fear Muslim
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
BAGHDAD - Two tear-shaped drops of blood remained on the living-room
floor, days after Muslim fanatics shot their way into a home and executed
two children because the family is Christian.
Now, some Iraqi Chaldean Christians say they fear that militants will
attack churches in Baghdad on Easter Sunday.
Chaldea was the name 2,000 years ago of a portion of Iraq, then part
of the Persian Empire. Chaldean Christians broke from the early Christian
church over the question of Jesus' divinity but were reunited with the
Roman Catholic Church in the 1670s.
"Our people are afraid of some sort of massacre on Easter. Four
churches have come to us to ask about how to hire security," said Isoh
Barnsavm, an officer in the Bethnahrain Patriotic Union, one of several
political parties that represent segments of Iraq's million-strong
"Neighbors are now receiving threatening letters. Some of the threats
are from unknown groups," Mr. Barnsavm said. "Others are from Ansar
al-Islam," a group linked with al Qaeda that was targeted by U.S.-led
forces during the war.
"They say, 'You have to be a Muslim, or else we will kill you.'"
Late last month, the family of the two murdered children received a
note warning that they would be killed and "doomed to hell."
The next day, the gunman came and killed the two children, each with
an AK-47 rifle shot to the head that left blood flowing across the living
room. Their mother and several other children in the house were allowed to
live, presumably to tell others.
Some blood remains on the floor and wall, where a framed picture of
the Virgin Mary with a golden halo looks out over the room.
Two uncles have since moved in to protect the family.
One of the men, disheveled after another sleepless night spent
clutching his own AK-47, pleaded with a visiting reporter for help as his
eyes filled with tears.
"How can you guarantee we won't be killed? We can't sleep. We can't go
out to work. We're so scared that we are carrying our guns all the time.
It all happened in less than 10 seconds," the uncle said.
The mother, rail thin beneath her black mourning dress, sat quietly
with her surviving children.
Mr. Barnsavm said: "There have been hundreds of attacks. Every day we
hear of a new attack." He estimated that up to 200 Iraqi Christians have
been killed by Muslim extremists since the war began last year.
Many have been killed while working as interpreters for the coalition,
in attacks that had no apparent religious motive.
But Mr. Barnsavm says he is especially worried about incidents in
which people are targeted simply because they are Christian.
In the killing of the two children, the warning was written on a
computer, printed and reproduced on a photocopier. It was signed Ansar
al-Islam. It accused the family of selling "narcotic liquid," an apparent
euphemism for alcoholic beverages. In Iraq, only Christians are permitted
to buy or sell alcohol.
Officials at the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority declined to
comment for this article.
A public information officer said the case of the murdered children
was a matter for the Iraqi Interior Ministry to take up as a "police case,
such as breaking and entering or murder."
An officer at the U.S. Consulate, asked by e-mail for information on
how a family would go about applying for political asylum, said she was
not authorized to talk to the press.
Members of the Bethnahrain party say they have no access to anyone in
"They won't even allow me into the CPA building because I have no
badge," said one senior party official, who asked not to be named.
Chaldean Christians are said to number about 600,000 in Iraq, with at
least twice that many having emigrated to the United States, Western
Europe and Australia over the years. A large Chaldean community thrives in
"We have one family who has been threatened with a note: 'If you visit
a church, we will kill you,'" said the senior Bethnahrain party official,
who is also a history professor and well-known writer.
In Iraq, the Chaldeans are particularly upset because they are not
represented on the 25-member Iraqi Governing Council, which was appointed
by the chief U.S. administrator, L. Paul Bremer.
The one non-Muslim member of the council, Yonadam Kanna, represents
Assyrian Christians, the smallest of three main Christian groups. A third
group, Syriac Christians, is divided into Catholics loyal to Rome and
Orthodox members with a patriarch.
Iraq's interim constitution was accepted by the Iraqi Governing
Council. But 12 of 25 members did so under protest and demanded there be
changes after June 30, when the document takes effect.
The constitution proclaims Islam the state religion.
Elsewhere, it mentions Turkmen and Chaldo-Assyrians as examples of
minorities whose rights are to be protected.
"It doesn't say what a Chaldo-Assyrian is. We never heard the term
before. Is it a nation? Is it an ethnic group, a religion?" asked Nahrain
Kohoshaba Toma, leader of the Bethnahrain Free Woman's Union of Iraq.
"We need to work with coalition forces to provide some sort of
security for Christian families. Arab have clans. They have security from
their clans. Kurds have clans.
"Christians don't have clans. They need security, and it starts with
the law. Read the new constitution; it does not even say that Christians
exist in Iraq," Miss Toma said.
Mr. Barnsavm said a religious war is already under way in Iraq. He
sometimes uses the terms "clash of cultures" and "clash of civilizations"
terms that U.S. officials avoid.
"On one side there's globalization, the borderless world, the concept
of democracy, culture that flows across borders. Now the central power
against this new system comes from the Middle East, from the Islamic
fanatics and a tribal culture.
"This is not just the Muslims against Christians. It's the fanatical
Islamists striking the West. The Kurds near the Iranian border are being
attacked by Ansar al-Islam, which says they are not real Muslims.
"But the fanatics see us as part of the West, so we become the first
target inside the country," Mr. Barnsavm said.
Saddam Hussein's government gave a measure of protection to Christians
and other religious minorities. None among dozens of Christians
interviewed in the past month suggested they miss him.
"We are quite happy that Saddam is gone, to end the rule of such a
dictator," Mr. Barnsavm said. "The attacks that are happening to us are
the price we pay for a new system, ending a dictatorship and building a
"We paid for these kinds of changes throughout history with our blood,
every time in history there was a conflict between East and West."
Much of the blood spilled by Muslim fanatics in post-Saddam Iraq has
been from Mandeans, a Biblical sect known for its white robes, river
baptisms and devotion to the teachings of John the Baptist.
"After the war, we have documented 49 kidnappings, killings and rapes
against Mandeans in different parts of Iraq," said Karam Majeed, who is
creating an organization to preserve Mandean culture.
Shortly after the war, a senior Muslim cleric based in southern Iraq
published a fatwa, or religious edict, on his Web site: "When we consider
Mandeans, we don't know much about their religion, but they are unclean."
Said Mr. Majeed: "This is a very dangerous order because it means a
Muslim cannot have contact with a Mandean. It also means that Muslims have
the right to attack Mandeans. They don't consider it a crime to attack
someone who is 'unclean.'"
He read from a dossier of attacks during the past year:
In Sadr City, a vast Shi'ite slum that houses more than half of
Baghdad's 5 million people, gunshots were fired into shops owned by
Mandeans and the words "your day is coming" were written on a wall.
A woman in Baghdad was handed a note that read: "You are a Mandean, so
you must pay 1 million Iraqi dinars , or we will kill your three
In Falluja, the stronghold of Sunni Muslim insurgence a city now
sealed off by U.S. Marines after the murder-mutilation of four Americans
last week Mandean families have been forced to convert to Islam.
If they refuse, they must leave Falluja or be killed.
In the city of Kut, five houses owned by Mandeans were blown up, one
last April and four in June.
The police are typically of little help, and little effort is made to
differentiate between common crime and attacks motivated by religion.
When people are kidnapped for ransom a crime that has become
commonplace but was unheard of in Saddam's time police often tell families
of whatever religious faith to pay the kidnappers because there is nothing
they can do.
As for crimes with a clear religious motive, the situation is even
worse, said Mr. Majeed. "We can't even go to the Interior Ministry. They
won't even admit there is Islamic persecution of minority religions. The
only people who can do anything about this are the Americans."
The spiritual leader of the Mandeans, Satar Jabar, who has a long
white beard, has written several letters to Mr. Bremer but received no
"We don't have representation in the Governing Council or any of the
ministries. They didn't ask us for anything," Mr. Jabar said.
As for the family of the two murdered children, an aid group took the
father to Amman, Jordan, and two uncles moved in to guard the wife and
children, whose shy smiles belie their recurring nightmares of the
attackers coming back.