Violence Against Iraqi Christians Escalates
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JEFFREY BROWN: Next, even as Christians around the world celebrate Christmas, many churches in Iraq have canceled festivities. Lindsey Hilsum of Independent Television News explains why.
LINDSEY HILSUM: A brother; maybe a son lost in the bombing of the Church of Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad in October. More than 300 worshiped here then. Now only a forlorn gathering of survivors remains.
Bullet holes and blood stains — emblems of the fear Christians feel in Iraq this Christmas. While it`s safer in Baghdad for most people now, Islamist extremists are targeting those they call “Infidels.”
Maybe a million Christians lived in Iraq before the war, but more than half have left and others are following.
Standing here in this church it`s not hard to understand why Christians want to leave. Christianity has been here in Iraq for more than 2,000 years. Some of the Christians still speak Aramaic — the same language as Jesus. But the killings and bombings and attacks of the last few weeks may have tipped the balance. People want to go.
Security camera footage from the building opposite shows what happened. The terrorists believed to be linked to al Qaeda climbed over the wall. There was shooting all around. Then they exploded grenades
and suicide bombs as they held the congregation hostage.
Amongst the dead, Uday Eashoue (ph) and his four-year-old son, Adam. Uday`s (ph) mother and sisters can`t bear to go to church now, not even for Christmas mass. They scarcely dare leave their home.
AMAL HABIB EASHOUE (TRANSLATED): Now Uday (ph) is gone, I feel I`ve lost my world as if the world doesn`t exist anymore. I don`t want to leave the country, but now that this has happened, I fear for my daughters.
LINDSEY HILSUM: Her husband talks to the police who have belatedly been tasked to protect Christian houses, several of which were attacked after the church bombing. He`s bitter that they felt safer in the time
of Saddam Hussein.
ZUHAIR MARZINA EASHOUE (TRANSLATED): We don`t want to leave, because we`ve watered this country`s soil with our blood for thousands of years. And this is a Christian civilization with Christian history. But what`s happened has made us hate the country, which doesn`t protect us and our children.
LINDSEY HILSUM: Two hundred miles north of Baghdad, the autonomous Kurdish region has provided some sanctuary. Since the church bombing, 1,000 Christian families have fled here. Amongst them, Zuhair and Amal`s nephew and niece. We met them in a church, because although Kurdistan is generally secure, the only town where they could afford to stay isn`t. They didn`t want to show their faces.
MAN (TRANSLATED): We want to sit outside in the morning and breathe fresh air to feel life is good. But you sit, and you`re afraid. You go shopping, and you`re afraid. You go for a walk somewhere, and you`re afraid. What kind of life is this? Iraq has become a hell.
WOMAN (TRANSLATED): Even though it`s Christmas and we love this festival, what can we do? We are sad at the moment, so we won`t celebrate.
LINDSEY HILSUM: We drove to the Seventh Century Monastery of Rabban HormIZ (ph) of Alkosh (ph). At it`s foot sits Saint Catherine`s (ph) where the monks are sheltering some 20 families who fled the northern town of Mosule (ph), Ninneva (ph) in the Bible, in November after a space of attacks.
Hannah left after her neighbor`s house was bombed, and her children threatened. Life, she says, was better before the U.S. invasion. She doesn`t want her surname broadcast.
HANNAH (ph) (TRANSLATED): We were happy and getting on with our lives. But as soon as the Americans came into the country, this is what happened to us. They say to us, “The Americans are your people. They`re Christians.” They say, “You brought them here,” and they kill us for it.
LINDSEY HILSUM: There were once 300 monks here. Now there are only 10. As Islamist groups become more powerful, and in places violent across the Middle East, Christian communities are diminishing, and nowhere faster than in Iraq.
Back in Baghdad there are fewer bombs on the streets these days. The Minister for Human Rights who happens to be a Christian says, “It`s not a question of putting walls around churches, but of providing
security for all Iraqis whatever their religion.”
WAJDAN SALEM: Since 2003 everything in Iraq have been damaged. We are building a new army. We are building our new police. It was the responsibility of the coalition force. And that mean the situation in Iraq is not just the Iraqi government`s responsible (sic), it`s the responsible (sic) of all the world — all the country (sic) who were part of the war.
LINDSEY HILSUM: Christmas service at Saint George`s — the only church in Baghdad celebrating fully this year. Canon Andrew White, a Church of England Vicar combines traditions. A Santa who might be at
home in an English shopping center, and the ancient eastern Catholic rights.
ANDREW WHITE: The Lord (inaudible) in Aramaic.
LINDSEY HILSUM: He`s drafted in a Sunni Muslim Shaykh.
LINDSEY HILSUM: Applauded when he says, “Christians shouldn`t be regarded as a minority, but an integral part of Iraq.”
ANDREW WHITE: I think it would be good if we (inaudible)…
LINDSEY HILSUM: Cannon White (ph) determined to stay in Baghdad, despite battling multiple sclerosis wants others to stay too.
ANDREW WHITE: I ask people to stay, because it`s important that we maintain a Christian presence here. Christianity is like the root of Iraq. If you cut the root, you cut Iraq, and it`s finished.
LINDSEY HILSUM: The new Iraqi government will have to move fast if it`s to stop the exodus. This is a Christmas full of sorrow, and for many Christians, probably their last in Iraq.