The news has escaped much of the mass media but Christian families are leaving the northern Iraqi city of Mosul in their droves to escape a concerted campaign of violence and intimidation.
Chaldean Bishop Emil Shimoun Nona has said that Mosul is experiencing a “humanitarian emergency” and that “hundreds of Christian families” left the city Feb. 24 in search of shelter, leaving behind their homes, property, commercial activities, according to Asia News. The situation “is dramatic”, he said, and warned that Mosul could be “emptied completely of Christians”.
The families have chosen to flee after a spate of violent attacks which left five Christians dead last week, and members of a whole family murdered on Tuesday. “In one house all the family members were killed—five people,” said an Iraqi member of Open Doors, a non-denominational charity helping persecuted Christians.
“First the attackers drove by and shot from their car. Then they forced themselves into the house and gunned down the entire family. They even threw two bodies outside the house as a cruel warning for others.”
Iraqi Christians do not know specific reasons why the violence against believers is so extreme in the last 10 days, except for political and religious motives. National elections are scheduled March 7 and the attackers hope to derive benefit from causing political instability.
Speaking to the Register Feb. 22nd, Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk said the elections are prompting a struggle between political groups made up of Arabs and Kurds. “They are fighting to have authority, power and also the economy and there’s a big tension,” he said, adding that in Mosul they are “pushing the Christians to get out of the city – that is their main purpose.”
He warned that lack of security is due to a political vacuum in Mosul, with Arabs running the city and not sharing power with the Kurds. He said he remains hopeful that peace could return after the elections. Archbishop Sako has launched “a demonstration and a fast” to sensitize the international community to the “massacre of Iraqi Christians” and stop the violence in the country.
Pope Benedict XVI has expressed his deep concern and sorrow over the continuing wave of violence. Vatican Radio and the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, reported Feb. 24 that although the Pope is on retreat and not speaking publicly, he expressed his sorrow that “in the area of Mosul, the killing of Christians continues.”
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican Secretary of State, told Iraq’s prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, that the Pope expresses his “sincere solidarity” with him and other leaders after a series of attacks on government buildings and on places of worship, both Muslim and Christian. “He prays with fervor for an end to the violence and asks the government to do everything possible to increase security around all places of worship throughout the country,” Cardinal Bertone wrote.
In a speech given Tuesday to the Sant’Egidio lay community in Rome, Archbishop Sako warned that in the coming years more Iraqi Christians are likely to flee the country due to violence by Islamic extremists and fears over the introduction of Sharia law. “They think of the Jews who were once in Iraq but are not there anymore and they are thinking it’s their turn to leave,” he said. “This is what people are thinking about.”
He also said Iraqi Christians feel neglected by the West. “[They] have the impression of being forgotten by the West that is secular,” he said. “In the past, some might have wanted to protect Christians but now we have the impression of being isolated and forgotten by all.”
The Vatican nuncio to Iraq, Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, warned in an interview with Vatican Radio Feb. 25 that Christians have been in Iraq for 2,000 years, so “any attempt to decrease the Christian presence or, worse, to destroy the Christian presence in Iraq would mean destroying the history of the Iraqi nation.”