Christian schools have been leafleted with threats demanding the students should become Muslims or face death. Last week bombs were discovered in two schools, one in Baghdad and another in Mosul (northern Iraq).
The bomb at St Thomas' School in Mosul was discovered on 11 November; it was a cluster of low explosive hand grenades that could have caused significant injury or even death. The school has around 500 pupils of whom approximately 450 are Christian and 50 are Muslim. Thankfully the bombs in both schools were successfully defused. The schools have received intimidating written warnings demanding that the children should become Muslims. If they failed to do so, the warnings read, they should expect to be killed. It is thought that a Saudi backed Wahhabi Sunni group are responsible for both the warnings and the bombs.
Christian families all over Iraq have been receiving threatening letters, one of which has been posted on an Assyrian Christians website:
"In the name of God: the Merciful, the Compassionate.
Do not adorn yourselves as ignorant women did before the time of Islam (Sura 33.33).
The leadership of the Islamic Badr Brigade hopes that the head of this noble family will stand with the Muslim brethren and follow basic Muslim rules. The veil should be worn and the honourable teachings of Islam that have come to us from ages past must be adhered to. We are Iraqis and Muslims; we will not tolerate sin. If this announcement is not complied with we shall either inflict some unbearable punishment, kill offenders, kidnap them, or destroy them in their homes with fire or by bombing.
This order applies to the daughters of this family, their mother and the little girl.
The Islamic Badr Brigade, Najaf"
This notice has been sent out by Al-Badr, which is the militia of the main Shi'a group, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). SCIRI has a representative on the 25 member Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) set up by the coalition. This warning is thus the first one that comes from a group that has official international recognition.
Sheikh Abbas Rubai presided over the first sitting, in May, of an Islamic court in Baghdad at Hikma Mosque in Sadr City. The mosque has established four committees to enforce Islamic law. These committees are stopping women on the street to force them to cover their heads and not wear make-up. Sheikh Mohammed Fartousi, also of al-Hawza, has said, "Women who don't wear the veil won't be served when they go shopping; taxis won't pick them up and they might have eggs and rotten tomatoes thrown at them."
CHRISTIANS UNDER PRESSURE
Life in Iraq is becoming increasingly difficult for the estimated 700,000 Christian Iraqis. Many now feel that their situation is worse than when they were living under Saddam Hussein. In Baghdad most are afraid to go to Church. They fear that large numbers of Christians meeting together in a church pose an unacceptable security risk as they would constitute a likely target for a bomb attack. In Basra the clergy are being specifically targeted. In the same week that the school bombs were discovered a Kalashnikov was fired at the residence of the Syro-Antiochan Bishop of Mosul. Christians in the North have been illegally dispossessed and are under constant pressure from the Kurds to convert, if they wish to enjoy their protection.