Reprinted from

Armed Muslims Begin 'Ethnic Cleansing' in Baghdad

Kenneth R. Timmerman
Wednesday, May 23, 2007

 WASHINGTON -- A group of armed Muslims set fire to St. George's Assyrian Church in the Dora neighborhood of Baghdad last week, completing decimating what remained of a church already hit by a deadly fire-bombing in October 2004.

"The bombing of St. George's Church should leave no doubt in anyone's mind that a process of ethnic cleansing has begun," the Rev. Dr. Keith Roderick of Christian Solidarity International told NewsMax.

"Unfortunately, the United States has put very little pressure on the Iraqi government to establish, as guaranteed by provisions in the Iraqi constitution, an autonomous federal unit of self governance and security for these minorities," he added.

 Wednesday's attack is only the latest in a series of measures by Islamic militants aimed at forcing Christians to leave Iraq.

"There are estimates that nearly 50 percent of the Christians of Iraq have been forced to flee into exile," Roderick said." It is lamentable that the international community and the U.S. have not treated this terrible human dilemma with an urgent response."

Peter BetBasoo of the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA) has been following closely the plight of his fellow Assyrians in Iraq.

"Over the past 30 days, al-Qaida has moved into the Dora neighbood and started to collect the jizya [protection money]," he said. "They are telling the Assyrian families who remain in the area they must pay this protection money, or leave."

 The jizya, sometimes referred to as a "head tax" or a "poll tax," was established by the Quran on non-Muslims as a means of enforcing their submission to Muslim rule. Those who refused to pay the jizya were to be killed.

The "Islamic State in Iraq," a Sunni insurgent governing council dominated by al-Qaida, recently appointed a local imam, Hatym al-Rizeq, as its "prince" for the al-Dora neighborhood. He began demanding that Christian Assyrians pay the protection tax last month.

According to AINA, al-Qaida elements moved into the Dora area recently from al-Anbar povince, where they were fleeing the U.S. security sweep.

The Dora neighborhood, some six miles southwest from central Baghdad, "seems to be abandoned by both Iraqi and Coalition" forces, AINA reported last month.

Over the past week, U.S. forces have scoured the surrounding area in search of two missing U.S. soldiers who are believed to have survived a kidnapping by insurgents linked to al-Qaida.

"We talked to many people within the American Embassy and the Iraqi Government, but it seems no body really cares, because they have done nothing" to stop the anti-Christian violence, one al-Dora resident told AINA.

 Another Dora resident, who is now a refugee in Syria, said he had spoken to a family who recently fled the neighborhood after "terrorists knocked on their door" and demanded that they pay the jizya to support the insurgents. If they refused to pay the tax, they were told to convert to Islam, "or leave the house within 24 hours or else be killed."

Al-Qaida is demanding that Christians pay 250,000 dinars (around $200) for the right to remain in their own homes, a sum equivalent to an average month's salary in Iraq, AINA said.

"Christians in Iraq are on their way to extinction, cut off from the country's political process," said Father Bashar Warda, newly-appointed rector of the St Peter Major Seminary, which was recently moved from Baghdad to Ankawa in Iraqi Kurdistan for security reasons.

When asked why nothing had been done since the liberation to protect Iraqi Christians, Father Warda blamed "the indifference of Iraqi leaders. They do not consider us as belonging to this nation."

He said that other Iraqi groups take advantage of Christians "because we have no outside support or our own militia. They know that all we can do is make appeals and complain. [Iraqi] politicians act convinced that our community is bound to disappear in a few years."

William J. Murray, chairman of the conservative Religious Freedom Coalition, told NewsMax that he has called on President Bush to "step forward and protect the Christians that have been placed in such grave danger by our actions in Iraq, even if the sole solution is to grant immediate asylum to all of them."

The instability "caused in Iraq by our failed attempt to install a democracy has decimated the Christian community," Murray added. Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo, international director of the Barnabas Fund, issued an appeal on May 11 to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and to U.S. leaders, which is available at a Web site dedicated to supporting the Assyrian community,

He recalled during a recent visit to Baghdad speaking to a Christian minister who had appealed to the local American military commander to beg for protection for Christians. The answer he got was, "We are not here to protect you."

 Christian Solidarity International estimates that 100,000 Assyrian Christians have fled Iraq for Jordan, where the government refuses to grant them refugee status and has closed church schools because they are "teaching Christianity." Many more have fled for Syria.

In 1987, the Christian population of Iraq was 1.4 million, Roderick said. "Today it is estimated to bet between 600,000 and 800,000."

Dora is not the only area in Iraq where Christians are being persecuted. Over the past two years, more than 27 churches have been attacked or firebombed throughout Iraq, priests kidnapped, and women murdered, Roderick said.

Last October, an Iraqi priest, Father Boulos Iskander, was kidnapped and murdered near Mosul. His kidnappers placed his severed head on top of his chest, and his severed arms and legs around his head.

"The U.S. military has rushed in to rebuild schools and mosques," Father Roderick said. "It remains to be seen how quickly they will rush in to assist the beleaguered Christians rebuild their losses, such as St. George's."

Iraq's Christians trace their ancestry to the ancient Assyrians and Babylonians. Those who belong to the Chaldean church are known as Assyrians or Chaldeans, while members of the Syrian Orthodox church are known as Syriacs.

Even today, the Syriac/Chaldean liturgy is in Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus.

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