As Christmas draws closer, Amnesty International calls on the Iraqi government to protect the country’s Christians who have been threatened, bombed, and displaced since the US invasion in 2003.
In February this year Christian families were killed in their homes in Mosul by unidentified armed groups. Later this year, on October 31, gunmen held worshippers hostage at Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad. After the Iraqi army stormed in, the gunmen detonated their explosive belts, killing more than 40 worshippers, including a priest.
Other places of worship have been bombed as part of the rampant sectarian violence since 2003, such as the attack on the Al-Askari Mosque in Samarra in 2006 and the targeting of various shi’ite shrines across Iraq. Not a month goes by in Iraq without suicide bombings taking the lives of tens of Iraqis of all religions, and injuring hundreds more. In August 60 army recruits of different religions were killed in a suicide bombing at the Baghdad Ministry of Defense Building. In February of this year 40 shi’ite pilgrims were killed, and in July another 28 pilgrims were killed in a suicide attack. More than 400 people were killed in bombings at Al-Qahtaniyya and other Yazidi villages in 2007.
Many Christians have fled to northern Iraq from Baghdad, where their safety had been threatened by armed militias. Stephen Farrell of The New York Times visits a Christian monastery in Qosh where Christians have taken refuge. See the footage here. The report also shows footage of Iraq’s Yazidis and Sabean-Mandeans and reports on violence against these and other religious minorities in Iraq.
More than half of Iraq’s one million Christians have fled their homes since 2003, joining about five million internally displaced persons and Iraqi refugees in the Middle East and elsewhere. See Amnesty International’s report Civilians Under Fire for more information on their plight.
As Christians and other religious minorities are threatened by suicide bombings and armed militias, Sunnis and Shiites are also caught in the war of the extremists, and all continue to suffer the consequences of a war that took more than 122,000 lives and destroyed the country’s infrastructure and environment.