Viewing cable 06BASRAH5, THE CHRISTIANS IN BASRAH - SHOULD WE STAY OR SHOULD WE GO?
This record is a partial extract of the original cable.
The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BASRAH 000005
E.O. 12958: DECL: 1/22/2016
TAGS: PHUM PGOV KDEM IZ
SUBJECT: THE CHRISTIANS IN BASRAH - SHOULD WE STAY
OR SHOULD WE GO?
CLASSIFIED BY: Mark F. Marrano, Deputy Regional Coordinator,
Basrah Regional Embassy Office, Department of State.
REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)
¶1. (C) Summary: Christians are a small minority in Iraq, about 2
percent of Iraq's 26 million, and are sometimes lost in the
larger Iraqi sectarian schisms. Deputy Regional Coordinator
(DRC) met separately with the leaders and members of the three
largest Christian groups in Basrah; the Chaldean Christians, the
Assyrian Christians and the Armenian Orthodox in order to assess
the current relationships of the respective groups with the
Muslim community. Although the initial conversations conveyed a
sense of normalcy and "business as usual" for Christians living
in Basrah, there was an underlying sense that the Christian
groups were feeling the pressure of living in the post-Saddam
Basrah community. End summary.
¶2. (C) The DRC met with Gabriel T. Kassab, Archbishop of Basrah,
at his church and place of residence in downtown Basrah. The
Archbishop stated that he is the leader of the Chaldean
Catholics, Syrian Catholics and Latin Catholics numbering around
3500 in Basrah. He is responsible for ten Catholic churches in
Basrah, only two of which have priests and are still operating.
Most of the priests fled after being threatened in the last two
years and have not returned. The Archbishop stated that he too
received many threats and extortion letters after the fall of
Saddam, but made the decision to pay one particular group for
protection and has done so ever since. However, he added that he
now regrets that decision.
¶3. (C) The Archbishop described how his church operates three
kindergartens totaling 450 children with six nuns as well as a
youth center, a bible study group and an orphanage. He stated
that 90 percent of the children in the kindergarten and youth
center are Muslim. In addition, his church distributes free food
and medicine to anyone who asks and oversees 14 charity projects
throughout the city. The Archbishop stated that it is important
to show the Muslim community that the Christian churches
contribute to the well being of the entire population,
regardless of religion.
¶4. (C) Despite his efforts, however, the Archbishop admitted
that times have been tough for Christians. He stated that in the
period immediately after the war, about a dozen Christians were
killed by Shia groups who were determined to have all Christian
liquor stores and nightclubs closed. He mentioned that even
today, Christian women in particular are harassed in public and
made to wear the veil. He attributes the negative attitude
towards Christians to the Iranians that have come into Basrah.
The Archbishop stated that he has met with the Governor of
Basrah regarding the harassment and the fact that the City of
Basrah does not employ Christians. The Governor, however, has
not taken any action. The Archbishop has also met with other
political leaders in an effort to find a way his Christian
community can continue to live in peace among the Muslims.
¶5. (C) The DRC met with Father Sulaqah and the Deacon, Yacub
Youssuf, of the Assyrian Christian Church at the Regional
Embassy Office. Father Sulaqah, who has been in Basrah for 15
years, had declined the DRC's offer to visit him at his church
stating that it would bring too much attention to his community.
He stated that the Assyrian Christians have two churches in
Basrah, but had to close one when about 120 Assyrian Christians
left last year mostly for other parts of Iraq because of the
unstable security situation. He added that in the period
following the fall of Saddam, seven people from his church were
killed and a number of others were threatened with death if they
did not leave or pay money for "protection." Father Sulaqah
stated that there are currently about 390 Assyrian Christians
left in Basrah.
¶6. (C) The Deacon mentioned that Assyrian Christians continue to
be targets for kidnappings and threats. He stated that they are
seen as easy prey and most vulnerable because they have no tribe
to protect them. He also added that there are lists of who to
target for kidnappings and extortion that come from Iran. The
Deacon stated that one group in particular, Thar'allah, is well
known for receiving their instructions from Iran on who to
target. Father Sulaqah mentioned that he has gone to see the
Governor of Basrah to complain of the mistreatment of the
Assyrian Christians, but so far the Governor has not taken any
¶7. (C) The head of the Armenian Orthodox church fled to Baghdad
in September of 2005 when he and his family received direct
threats. As a result, the DRC met with several members of the
Armenian Orthodox church numbering around 150 in Basrah all of
whom lamented the fact that they no longer had a priest. For
Christmas mass celebrations, the Armenian Orthodox church in
Baghdad sent a priest to Basrah for several days. However, the
main church of the Armenian Orthodox is in disrepair from lack
of money needed for renovations. As a result, the church members
meet in a small building in a Christian cemetery
¶8. (C) According to the members the DRC spoke with, all the
Armenian Christians have felt some sort of pressure from their
Muslim neighbors since the fall of Saddam. Most of the members
of the church have family members, women in particular, who are
constantly harassed when they go out in public. Some of them
have sent their sons and daughters out of Iraq to Western
Europe. In addition, the church used to have a large Armenian
Orthodox Club that encompassed a large tract of land with a
soccer field and several clubhouses. However, in the period
after the war, the area was occupied by homeless Muslim families
who have since made it their place of residence. Several members
of the Armenian Orthodox church have tried to see the Governor
of Basrah in order to get the Muslim families evicted and their
club reinstated, but he has refused to see them.
¶9. (C) The Christian groups in Basrah have been through some
rough times especially the period immediately following the fall
of Saddam. They have been singled out not only because they are
Christian, but because they cannot fall back on the protection
of any tribe or group. In addition, a number of Christians
believe they have been targeted because they operated lucrative
alcohol stores that have since been taken over by Muslims. For
all these reason, there has been a steadily dwindling of
Christians in Basrah since 2003. Some have fled to other parts
of Iraq, but others have left the country. However, those that
still remain are hopeful that "this too shall pass," and they
will be able to live peacefully with their Muslim neighbors as
they have been doing for centuries.