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WikiLeaks: 2007-06-18: 07BAGHDAD2010: Protestant Church Leaders say Christians Need Refugee Status

by WikiLeaks. 07BAGHDAD2010: June 18, 2007.

Posted: Tuesday, October 30, 2012 at 05:11 PM UT


Viewing cable 07BAGHDAD2010, PROTESTANT CHURCH LEADERS SAY CHRISTIANS NEED

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07BAGHDAD2010 2007-06-18 16:05 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Baghdad
VZCZCXRO8526
PP RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHIHL RUEHKUK
DE RUEHGB #2010/01 1691605
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 181605Z JUN 07
FM AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1750
INFO RUCNRAQ/IRAQ COLLECTIVE
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC
RHEHAAA/WHITE HOUSE WASHINGTON DC//NSC//
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BAGHDAD 002010 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/15/2017 
TAGS: PHUM PREF PREL KDEM KIRF IZ
SUBJECT: PROTESTANT CHURCH LEADERS SAY CHRISTIANS NEED 
 
REFUGEE STATUS 
 
REF: A) BAGHDAD 1425 B) BAGHDAD 1190 C) 06 BAGHDAD 0573 
 
Classified By: DEPUTY POLITICAL COUNSELOR ROBERT GILCHRIST FOR REASONS 
1.4 (B,D). 
 
1. (C) SUMMARY:  Pastor Estawri Haritounian and Pastor 
Bardilyan Yousif Aziz Hanna, representing the National 
Protestant Evangelical Church in Iraq, informed PolOff on May 
10 that due to increased targeting of Christians in Iraq, 
they were seeking protection and resettlement for members of 
their congregations in Baghdad.  It is difficult to validate 
that the targeting is primarily motivated by religious 
persecution for its own sake, rather than general criminal 
activity.  Pastor Estawri noted that Christian leaders 
representing other denominations at the Council of Christian 
Church Leaders in Baghdad (CCCB), of which he is a member, 
actually oppose Christian migration out of Iraq; however, he 
chose to advocate the view of many Christians who say they 
must leave Iraq to avoid persecution.  Pastor Bardilyan 
referenced his own experience of having survived a 
fifteen-day kidnapping ordeal in February.  Pastor Estawri 
claimed that during a meeting in March with Sunni, Shia, and 
Non-Muslim Endowment leaders, PM Maliki was unresponsive to 
their joint appeal for greater protection of religious 
facilities.  In response to their inquiries, post has offered 
to meet with the pastors to discuss assistance and 
resettlement of Iraqi refugees. END SUMMARY 
 
--------------------------------------------- ------------ 
ESTAWRI: TARGETING OF CHRISTIANS WORSE IN LAST SIX MONTHS 
--------------------------------------------- ------------ 
 
2. (C) On May 10, Pastor Estawri Haritounian and Pastor 
Bardilyan Yousif Aziz Hanna told PolOff that they were 
seeking refugee opportunities for their congregations due to 
what they said was worsening targeting of Christians in 
Baghdad during the last six months.  Pastor Estawri said that 
he has compiled a database of 210 accounts of anti-Christian 
targeting from Christian families.  Emphasizing the families' 
fear of facing reprisals if the information were compromised, 
Estawri explained that he would only release the information 
in order to help the families file applications for refugee 
status. 
 
3. (C) Estawri asserted that the recent targeting of 
Christians by Sunni insurgents in the Doura district of 
Baghdad is but the newest development in a string of 
persecution (ref A).  Estawri said that the situation for 
Christians in Iraq worsened after Pope Benedict XVI'S public 
reading of controversial statements about Islam in September 
2006.  He noted the killings in Mosul of Assyrian priest 
Father Paulos Iskender in October 2006 and of National 
Presbyterian Church Elder Munthir Alsaqa in November 2006. 
Pastor Estawri added that in his capacity as the assistant to 
Archbishop Avak Asadourian -- the General Secretary of the 
CCCB and Primate of the Iraqi Armenian Diocese -- he received 
information that seven Chaldean priests had been kidnapped in 
Baghdad since the Pope's statement (ref B). 
 
4. (C) Estawri said that the CCCB attempted to quell violence 
against Christians by putting signs on churches and making 
media announcements declaring that they were not responsible 
for the Pope's statements.  Despite these measures, Estawri 
noted that insurgents affiliated with Al-Qaeda, pressing in 
from the eastern and western sides of Baghdad, continued to 
target Christian families with kidnappings, forced evictions 
from homes, and extortion.  In addition, the Jaysh Al-Mahdi 
(JAM) militia targeted not only Sunnis, but also Christian 
owners of movie theaters, restaurants, and liquor stores.  He 
added that given the situation, he had no choice but to 
support the idea of Christian migration from Iraq -- which 
most other Christian leaders from other denominations 
represented at the CCCB oppose. (Note: Per Estawri, the CCCB, 
headed by Chaldean Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly, normally 
meets every six months to discuss Christian concerns across 
sects and can also convene for emergencies.  It last met on 
April 25 to discuss the Christians' worsening security 
situation. End Note.) 
 
---------------------------------- 
BARDILYAN DESCRIBES OWN KIDNAPPING 
---------------------------------- 
 
5. (C) As an example of recent anti-Christian targeting, 
Pastor Bardilyan referenced his own kidnapping ordeal, 
lasting from his abduction in the Doura district of Baghdad 
on February 12 until his release on February 27.  In a 
separate meeting on April 25, Bardilyan had discussed his 
kidnapping and provided PolOff with officially stamped 
statements on his case recorded by an investigative judge at 
 
BAGHDAD 00002010  002 OF 002 
 
 
a Baghdad police station.  Bardilyan relayed that on February 
12, three hooded gunmen on Street 60 in Hayy Assya in Doura 
forced him out of his car when he was with his wife, whom 
they slapped on the face and threatened for not wearing a 
head covering (hijab).  He reported his attackers asked him 
if he was "Priest Bardilyan" even though he was not wearing 
religious garb at the time.  According to Bardilyan, the 
gunmen then knocked him unconscious by hitting him on the 
head with a pistol, but let his wife go before stealing his 
car. 
 
6. (C) Bardilyan said that he was blindfolded and handcuffed 
throughout his abduction.  He reported his abductors moved 
him about six times from vehicle to vehicle en route to his 
final holding area -- possibly a farm, since it smelled like 
sheep.  Bardilyan assessed he was in an insurgents' camp.  He 
said he heard orders from a "master" to many "hajiis", but 
never any names.  Bardilyan noted people screaming as if they 
were being tortured; however, none of the detainees said a 
word to each other, and he considered it a miracle that no 
one hurt him during his captivity. 
 
7. (C) Before releasing him, Bardilyan's captors reportedly 
gave him the options of converting and becoming a leader for 
the insurgency, paying "jizya" (a tax levied on non-Muslims 
during early Islam), or leading the Christians out of Iraq. 
After being released in the Al-Mua'mra neighborhood in Doura, 
Bardilyan learned that his abductors had called his wife with 
his cell phone and demanded 15 million Iraqi dinars 
(approximately 15,000 USD) in ransom.  His wife told him his 
kidnappers chose a place for her to await their collection of 
the ransom money, which she delivered on February 26, a day 
before his release. 
 
--------------------------------------------- ---------- 
RELIGIOUS ENDOWMENTS APPEAL TO MALIKI FOR MORE SECURITY 
--------------------------------------------- ---------- 
 
8. (C) Pastor Estawri reported that during a meeting with 
Prime Minister Maliki in March, leaders from the Non-Muslim, 
Sunni, and Shiite religious endowments jointly raised issues 
such as the need to provide greater security to Baghdad 
religious facilities, regardless of sect. (Note: The three 
endowments receive funding from the state to maintain their 
respective religious facilities and were formed after Iraq's 
Ministry for Religious Affairs was dissolved under the 
Coalition Provisional Authority in August 2003. End note.) 
Estawri said the religious endowments had formed a pact 
agreeing to cooperate and declare support for the Baghdad 
Security Plan (BSP) in order to stop attacks on religious 
establishments.  Estawri expressed frustration that in 
response to the endowments' appeal, he claimed Maliki only 
remarked, "In fact, we (the government) need more 
protection". 
 
9. (C) In a separate conversation with PolOff on June 11, Dr. 
Mehdi Salih Hussain, the public affairs representative for 
the Sunni Endowment, confirmed Estawri's report that as an 
outcome of the March meeting with PM Maliki, the religious 
endowments had signed a joint pledge to support BSP in order 
to protect religious sites.  Dr. Mehdi also complained that 
the pledge did not apparently help improve security for 
religious sites. 
 
------- 
COMMENT 
------- 
 
10. (C) The Pastors' concerns are consistent with those that 
Iraqi Christian leaders have raised since early 2006 (ref C). 
 Pervasive reluctance by Christians to provide specific 
details of targeting due to fears of retribution is a large 
factor constraining Post's ability to validate the scale and 
nature of the phenomenon.  It is also difficult to validate 
that the targeting is primarily motivated by religious 
persecution for its own sake, rather than general criminal 
activity.  Post will continue to maintain awareness of the 
situation and provide the pastors with information on refugee 
programs.  END COMMENT. 
CROCKER

 



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