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Ethnic cleansing driving Christians out of Iraq

Ben Knight

November 15, 2010

Christians are fleeing Iraq, saying they are being ethnically cleansed by Islamic militants.

Ever since the fall of Saddam Hussein, Christians - like all Iraqis - have been caught up in the sectarian violence.

But in the past two weeks a series of horrific attacks have Iraqi Christians packing up and leaving like never before.

At St Ephraim's church in the Jordanian capital, Amman, the Syrian Orthodox mass goes back to the earliest years of Christianity.

Half of the liturgy is still delivered in Aramaic - the language spoken by Jesus.

This is where the Christian faith has its deepest roots. But the congregation is desperate to leave the Middle East.

The congregation is made up mainly of Iraqi refugees, and the most recent arrival is Susannah.

Two weeks ago 50 people were massacred at her church in Baghdad. Days later she picked up her baby son and left.

"We put up with so much," she said.

"But after the attack on the church, we were much more scared."

The two cousins of another congregation member, Nijem Abdallah, also died in that church.

He and his family might have been among them too.

"They came into my shop and demanded I give it to them," he said.

"So I did. Then they followed me home and demanded a $1,000 a month or they would kill me and my son."

'Something ghastly'

Mr Abdallah says the men were from the Mahdi Army, the military wing of one of the main power blocs [1] in Iraq's new government.

He says he spoke to his brother in Baghdad two days ago, who told him that Christians are now finding posters on their houses, telling them they have three days to get out.

These exiles in Jordan paint a frightening picture of a country where open season has been declared on Christians, even on children.

Two girls at the church, whose mother has been missing for two years, are now being cared for by another woman who arrived in Jordan nine months ago after her husband was kidnapped and murdered.

This has been going on for seven years, ever since the fall of Saddam Hussein, but historian Dr Raouf Abu Jader says the horror of the past two weeks has taken things to a terrifying new level.

"Killing, shooting has been common in the Middle East for many generations," he said.

"But that you go into a church, that has only worshippers, women and children, and start shooting haphazardly, is to my mind, something new, something ghastly, something unacceptable."

Two weeks ago, Al Qaeda-linked militants in Iraq issued a statement saying all Christians are now legitimate targets.

Most of these exiles have applied for refugee status and just want to get out of the Middle East for good.

And there is a real concern that the centuries-old link to the earliest years of the Christian faith could be broken forever.

[1] Uruknet's note: The Mahdi Army is the militia of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sade.





:: Article nr. 71872 sent on 15-nov-2010 23:23 ECT

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Link: www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/11/16/3067364.htm?section=world



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