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Iraq: Pre-election violence rattles sectarian nerves

Mission Network News

There’s been a deadly wave of bombings in advance of Saturday’s 450-seat provincial elections.

On Monday, police say insurgents coordinated 24 separate attacks in six different provinces, killing nearly four dozen people and wounding more than 257 others.

Based on the targets and who claimed responsibility, the violence appears to be sectarian. Greg Musselman, a spokesman with the Voice of the Martyrs Canada, explains, “There is a lot of instability. You’ve got al-Qaeda who definitely wants to make it their mission to take over the country and what they believe – their brand of militant Islam – and they will use any means to do that.”

Noting what seems to be a spike within the last few weeks, Mr Musselman attributes some of it to bad timing. “Part of that is with the US pullout, they are really testing to see how strong the military – the police – are in the country. Obviously, they’re finding out that there are some holes. That’s become a very big challenge for the Iraqi officials and security.”

While most of the violence is between the Shia and Sunni, it doesn’t take much before Christians are caught in the crossfire. Iraqi Christians – one of the oldest communities in the world – have faced such violence, that tens of thousands left the country in 2011.

Although Iraq’s constitution says each individual has freedom of thought, conscience, and belief, Christians feel that the government fails to protect them. Since there is no article on changing one’s religion, and Islamic law forbids conversion of Muslims to other religions, believers – especially Muslim-born believers – are routinely threatened, robbed, raped, or kidnapped, and their churches bombed.

As a result, persecution watchdog groups note with some alarm that Christians in Iraq are on the verge of extinction. Mr Musselman says, “Somewhere back in the mid-1990s, there were 1.2 to 1.4 million Christians. Today, some say there are less than 200,000. Not all of those Christians are meeting in visible churches. There’s a lot of underground activity going on.”

The head of the Chaldean Church estimates that only 57 churches remain with members of the minority fleeing Islamist attacks. Mr Musselman is quick to point out that not everyone is taking the exodus in stride. Some believers are going against the flow. “Some of the evangelical denominations are starting new churches, so there’s some activity – especially in the north, like Kurdistan – where there’s certainly more security. But in Baghdad, they have to be more careful.”

In fact, church leaders are answering difficult questions concerning fear and family safety: “Should I stay or should I go?” That’s where strong faith comes into play, says Mr Musselman. “One of the pastors in Kirkuk we talked to told us, “We want the Christians to stay. We need to be the light. This is an historic place where the Church has 2000 years of history, and if all the Christians leave, where will that leave us?'”




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