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Mainstream Political Leaders Denounce Attacks on Christian Minority

13 January 2004

A large number of Iraqi intellectuals and politicians have called upon Islamic religious leaders, the Iraqi Governing Council, other party leaders and the Coalition Authorities to prevent Shi'a Muslim groups attacking Christians.

A call by more than 200 mainly Muslim intellectuals and political leaders from Iraq to stop attacks on Christians and cease forcing women to wear the veil was published on Sunday 4 January on the Arabic website Elaph [1].The call was directed at Muslim clerics, the Iraqi Governing Council and the Coalition Authorities. They specifically called upon Islamic religious leaders to issue fatwas forbidding such "atrocious crimes against humanity and the Islamic [sic] religion".

The declaration said "horrific" crimes had been committed against women in forcing them to wear the veil, but worst of all was the "terrorising of our Christian brothers", intimidating them to become Muslims. It drew attention to the fact that Christians had lived in Iraq for two thousand years and had contributed greatly to the region's civilisation, both before and after the coming of Islam.

Shi'a militant groups which bear names such as God's Vengeance and Hezbollah have been subjecting the Christian community in Iraq to a relentless series of attacks as reported by Barnabas Fund over the last half year

These bold calls by over 200 key Iraqi intellectual and political figures are a welcome move for the country's Christians, acknowledging the problems they are facing and calling for change.

Iraqi church leaders have also been speaking out against the increasing persecution Christians are now suffering. Bishop Al-Qas said that missiles were launched against a convent in October of last year, and that Christians have received death threats, with many fleeing from Basra. He attributed this to the greater freedom that "Muslim fundamentalist" groups now have. The new head of the Chaldean Church, Patriarch Emmanuel III, has also been outspoken in his fears. He said that Muslims and Christians had lived side by side for "countless years in love and charity", but that they were now subject to attacks from extremists coming in from Saudi Arabia and Iran. He added that if legislation is enacted according to Islamic law, Christians will suffer. He stressed that they would have no prospects if the new Iraqi constitution was Islamic and that American intervention would be the only way to avert such an outcome.

The Iraqi Governing Council have nearly finalised a transitional constitution that would have Islam as one of its sources of law, but not the sole one. Freedom of religious practice for non-Muslims and equal rights for women would be guaranteed. This is another welcome sign. It remains to be seen whether Iraq's conservative Shi'a community would accept such a constitution.


[1] http://www.ankawa.com/cgi-bin/ikonboard/topic.cgi?forum=55&topic=6