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Protection for Iraqi Christians demanded

Posted: Tuesday, August 03, 2004 at 08:50 PM CT

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BAGHDAD, Iraq — An Assyrian Christian leader has called on Christians worldwide to demand protection for the Church in Iraq.

Ken Joseph Jr. of www.AssyrianChristians.com has told ANS, "For whatever their disagreements over the war, I do not think any American agreed to fight a war to create the Islamic Republic of Iraq and to cause the Christians to have to leave their historic country. We must provide this minimum protection accorded to the community under the law."

His statement follows a long predicted series of attacks on five Christian Churches – two in the Karada section of Baghdad, one in the Dora Section, one in the New Baghdad Area and the other in Mosul – on Sunday evening just as worshipers were leaving.

The attacks killed 11 people and wounded more than 50 in the first big assault on Iraq's Christian minority since the 15-month-old insurgency began.

"We have warned and warned that this was going to happen" screamed one Assyrian Christian who asked that his name be protected. "We have begged for help, from the International community; we have begged for protection but nobody would listen. Maybe finally they will realize that what we have been saying is true," he continued.

"The bombings follow a long string of bombings of Assyrian Christian-owned businesses, homes – a particularly gruesome killing involved two children aged 6 and 16 gunned down in cold blood in their home," said Joseph.

"Further difficulty happened days ago when the Assyrian Christians were completely shut out of election preparations for their two most populous areas in northern Iraq.

"Entitled to a minimum of four seats out of 28 for the upcoming National Congress to prepare for Iraq elections, the Assyrian Christians received no seats."

Another individual at the scene, who also asked not to be named, related what happened immediately after the bombing.

"American troops immediately circled the area and visibly angry soldiers nearly lost control as they watched and attempted to do all they could to help the worshipers as they struggled out of the church" he said.

"They were screaming. They were so angry at the people who would bomb a church as people were leaving the service. Frankly, I can't repeat some of what they were saying, but it was very clear they were deeply affected by this brutal act."

Another individual involved in the efforts, who to asked that his name not be used for fear of reprisal, put it more succinctly.

"Maybe this will finally alert the public to what the situation is. We call specifically on the U.S. Congress to attach a rider to the appropriations bill for Iraq. The Assyrian community is demanding protection and needs specifically four things – resettlement to their original villages, repair of the villages destroyed by Saddam Hussein, autonomy in Assyria as provided by Article 53 of the Iraqi Constitution and voting rights.

"The only way we can remain in Iraq is if we can have a protected area in our original homeland. Without this we must tell our people to leave. With all due respect, we do not believe the American people fought a war and liberated Iraq to have it become a radical Muslim state.

"It is we – the Assyrian Christians who love the Americans and will be eternally grateful for what they have done. This is the true feeling of the majority of the Iraqis. Now is the time for the Americans to help their friends and insist that the Assyrian Christians have an autonomous area in their homeland so they can live in peace."

Experts predict a continuation of the violence against the Assyrian Christians until either they leave the country en masse or the Assyrian Regional Government is set up as provided for in the Iraqi Constitution next to the similar Kurdish Regional Government, seen by many as the only long-term solution for the estimated 2.5 million Assyrian Christians in Iraq.

Predicting much of what is happening, EU Parliament Member Albert Jaan Maat had weeks earlier issued a report to the European Union saying, "Is the commission aware that the Assyrian Christians are systematically excluded from the distribution of aid by local leaders?"

Maat went on to speak of clear-cut religious discrimination, saying, "International aid is mainly distributed through regional, and therefore Muslim, leaders and seldom or never reaches the Assyrian Christians." according to Assyrianchristians.com, a website devoted to the Assyrian community worldwide.

Reflecting the widespread lack of assistance to the minority community including the Assyrian Christians, Yazidis and other non-Muslim communities, some view the whole situation as another example of ethnic cleansing in a more subtle way.

"This is our last cry for help" said a local Assyrian Christian. "If the world will not listen to us now then they do not care. Where are the Christians of the world when we need their voices and help? Why should we have to leave our own homeland where we were the first people to accept Christianity and where we have practiced our faith and lived in peace for 2,000 years?"

"The bombings are expected to increase as more and more responsibility is handed over to the interim Iraqi government and the move toward elections proceeds," stated Ken Joseph Jr.

"We are calling on American Christians to appeal to their congressman to have a 'rider' attached to the $18.4 billion appropriations bill for Iraq that demands that according to Article 53 of the Iraqi Constitution the Assyrian Christians be provided with autonomy over their homeland as the only way for them to survive in this terrible situation, and all aid and assistance to be provided without discrimination."

© 2004 ASSIST News Service

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