Iraqi Christians are lining up at checkpoints as thousands flee their neighborhoods for safety, following a series of attacks targeted at Christians in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.
On Sunday, Farques Batool, a Christian who owned a music store, was gunned down and killed in his shop. His teenage nephew was also wounded. A pharmacist was killed Friday by a man who pretended to be an undercover police officer, asked for the pharmacist’s identification card, then shot him. Religion is listed on government-issued ID cards in Iraq.
At least 11, and perhaps 14 Christians have died in targeted attacks in Mosul since the end of August, including seven last week alone. Fearing for their lives, many Christians are seeking asylum in churches or with relatives in nearby villages; some are traveling to safer Kurdish-controlled areas.
Louis Sako, the archbishop of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Kirkuk, called the recent killings an example of “a campaign of cleansing, killing and threatening” that Christians are facing in Iraq.
Though it is unclear who is behind the attacks, some people have their suspicions.
“I don’t want to accuse anyone, but I am saying that (those carrying out attacks) are wearing police uniforms,” said Yunadim Kanna, a Christian lawmaker.
Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, an Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman, revealed on Tuesday that the ministry has valuable information on the perpetrators, and has eliminated the possibility that al Qaeda has had a role in the attacks. Khalaf said that the information will not be made public for the time being.
The Iraqi government has begun to crackdown on the violence. More than 1,000 police personnel have already been sent to Mosul, and the government has pledged to send a cabinet delegation to investigate.
“The cabinet stressed the need to move quickly to support the security effort with intensive military operations to restore security and order in Mosul and to reassure citizens,” Ali al-Dabbagh, an Iraqi government spokesman said.
Muslim scholars have also spoken out against the attacks on Christians.
“As we have consistently demanded that the rights of Muslim minorities be respected all over the world, we do emphasize the need to respect the rights of all minorities across the Islamic world out of our firm position at the OIC inspired by the teachings of Islam,” said Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the Secretary General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
Though Islamic extremists have targeted Christians and other religious minorities in the years since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, this recent surge in attacks coincides with a dispute in parliament over a provision put forth by Christian leaders to restore a quota system that would reserve seats on provincial councils for religious minorities.
About a third of Iraq’s estimated 800,000 Christians are believed to have fled the country since the 2003 U.S. invasion.
WIDE ANGLE’s film Iraqi Exodus reports from the frontlines of the staggering refugee crisis that is unfolding in the Middle East as Iraqis flee their war-torn country.