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WikiLeaks: 2006-01-22: 06BASRAH5: The Christians in Basrah - Should We Stay or Should We Go?

Posted: Wednesday, November 09, 2011 at 07:18 PM CT


Viewing cable 06BASRAH5, THE CHRISTIANS IN BASRAH - SHOULD WE STAY OR SHOULD WE GO?

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06BASRAH5 2006-01-22 08:21 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL REO Basrah
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 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
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. 

Chaldean Christians 
------------------------ 
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. 

Assyrian Christians 
----------------------- 
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 
action. 

Armenian Orthodox 
------------------------ 
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. 

Comment 
----------- 
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. 

MARRANO

 


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