Iraq: Sudden Violence Shatters Christmas Calm

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Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | No. 461 | Wed 16 Jan 2008

(Neal Youngquist)

Life in Iraq is a daily challenge. In a climate of violence,
shortages and economic disruptions it is impossible to live a
normal life. Those fleeing the turmoil tell a foreboding
expectation of their own loss of life. Fear pervades everyday life
and death is never far away.

Iraq's small yet vigilant Christian community faces these daily
challenges and more. Christians have been the target of frequent
Islamic extremist attacks forcing tens of thousands to flee their
country for safe haven. Consequently, the Christian community has
decreased to some half million - a decrease of almost 50 percent
since the 1990s. Houses of worship have not been exempt from the
plague of violence. Since June 2004 forty churches have been the
targets of bomb attacks resulting in destruction, death and injury.

Recent months have seen significant improvement in the situation
generally as the US military reports violence has fallen by a
remarkable 60 percent. The Christian community took advantage of
this welcome peace by turning out for Christmas services in numbers
unthinkable a year ago. Several churches, big and small, were
filled to capacity. Others had empty pews - a reminder of members
now in neighbouring lands.

Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, leader of the ancient Chaldean
Catholic Church, celebrated Mass before about 2000 people in
Eastern New Baghdad. Muslim clerics, both Sunni and Shiite,
attended the service in a sign of unity. 'May Iraq be safe every
year, and may our Christian brothers be safe every year,' Shiite
cleric Hadi al-Jazail told reporters. 'We came to celebrate with
them and to reassure them.'

Abruptly, the spirit of Advent peace was shattered several days
later on Epiphany Sunday, 6 January. (Epiphany Sunday celebrates
the manifestation of Christ to the world.) Three churches sustained
major damage from a series of co-ordinated bombings in the northern
city of Mosul. The first bomb exploded outside the Chaldean Church
of St Paul followed by explosions outside the Assyrian church of
the Virgin Mary and two bombs detonating outside the Chaldean
church of Maskanta. A monastery and orphanage were also reported to
be damaged by car bombs and explosive charges.

Baghdad churches were also attacked as car bombs exploded at the
Church of St George. A Chaldean convent and two other churches were
bombed as well. A few days later bombs struck two churches in
Kirkuk, wounding three and inflicting damage. Thankfully no
fatalities resulted but Archbishop Louis Sako remarked the attacks
'represent a clear message' and 'co-ordinated plan' in a further
effort to intimidate the Christian minority to leave Iraq.

May these bombings not achieve their desired effect of spreading
fear and discouragement within the Christian community. Rather may
the Church stand ever more vigilant. May we faithfully support the
Church with prayer as it perseveres as a positive force of peace
and healing within the fractured nation.

'Therefore take the whole armour of God, that you may be able to
withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.'
Ephesians 6:13 RSV


* A continued reduction in incidents of violence throughout the
country and for Divine protection to surround the Christian
community; may God's peace prevail.

* Safety to surround Iraqi and foreign troops commissioned with the
difficult task of securing peace in the midst of volatility and
challenging circumstances; may God's grace be all-sufficient.

* A spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation to restore bitter
divisions within religious and ethnic communities; may God's
love abound.




Since 2004, Iraq's Christian minority has suffered such great
violence and intimidation that the fragility of life is a daily
reality to those who choose to stay and not flee abroad. Some
recent signs of growing peace resulted in well attended Christmas
services. However this calm was short-lived in Mosul and Baghdad
where bombs struck churches, a monastery, a convent and orphanage
on Epiphany Sunday, 6 January. Later attacks on churches in Kirkuk
inflicted casualties and further major damage. Please pray that the
Church will be sustained with courage as it perseveres amidst these
further co-ordinated attempts to intimidate Christians to leave
Iraq. May it be a force for healing within the fractured nation.
May God's grace and protection faithfully guard the Christian
community as well as all who are seeking to secure peace.


RLP guest writer Neal Youngquist serves as the International
Services Director for Asia with Prison Fellowship International.
Elizabeth Kendal, our regular researcher and writer, is currently
on annual leave.

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