Smoke blanketed the market square early one morning last March as the inhabitants of the Christian village of Bartella rushed to the square following an explosion. When the dust finally settled, villagers stared in shock at the ring of destruction surrounding the charred remains of a bombed out white car. Christians through Iraq remain the target of these violent attacks by Islamist extremist who want Iraq to be a “Muslim only” country.
A few days later, a crowd headed by clergymen in long black gowns solemnly proceeded to the cemetery to bury Shakir Benoka, who was killed in the explosion. Another car bombing, in the same Christian area, killed the driver of the car in the village of Batnaya. The bomb was apparently planted beneath the driver’s seat and tore the driver into pieces.
Each month Open Doors fieldworkers receive sad phone calls and emails from Christian contacts reporting attacks against the Christians in their area. While many attacks are part of the general violence, some of them are specifically targeted against Christians. “If these attacks take place in a Christian neighborhood or a Christian village, you can assume they are targeted especially against the Christian population of the neighborhoods and villages,” says an Open Doors fieldworker. In the decade since the fall of Saddam Hussein, an estimated 1,000 Christians have been killed, a relatively high number compared to the percentages killed from other groups in Iraqi society.
Some of the attacks are obviously aimed at individual Christians. A Christian in Mosul was the target of two attacks in a single week last March. After the first bomb exploded inside his home on a Wednesday, a second explosive device was thrown over his fence on Sunday. The Christian saw two young men running away. A military engineering team successfully deactivated the second bomb, which was wrapped in a black bag and a women’s t-shirt. In April, Adbuljabar Khidher Toza, another Christian from Mosul, was shot and killed by gunmen outside his own house.
These targeted attacks serve only one purpose, shares the fieldworker. “We received documents and threats stating that the aim of the Islamic Insurgents is to make Iraq a ‘Muslim only’ country. They want the Christians out.” Louis Raphael Sako, the newly elected Chaldean Catholic patriarch of Iraq and Syria, expressed concern about what Islamist rule will mean for the Christians. “People are afraid of a kind of Islamic state as it was in the Seventh century where Christians would be considered second class
The Open Doors’ 2013 World Watch List estimates that only approximately 340,000 Christians remain in Iraq, a sharp contrast to the 1.2 million Christians living in Iraq in the early 1990’s. Many believers have fled to Jordan and Lebanon or to the northern Kurdish region of Iraq. Iraq is ranked No. 4 on the list of the worst persecutors around the globe.
Jerry Dykstra, a spokesman for Open Doors USA, adds that, “since the start of war in Iraq 10 years ago, the situation for Christians has deteriorated each year. Christians have faced church attacks, kidnappings, threats and death for their faith. They have no faith in the government providing security for them. Please keep Iraqi Christians in your prayers. Many feel they are alone and forgotten.”
While aware of the very real dangers, Sako urges Christians, “We must stay. This is our history. This is our patrimony. When we leave everything will leave with us.”
Father, our hearts turn today to Iraq where Christians are targeted in attacks. While many have fled north to the Kurdish region or to other countries, we pray for the safety of the many believers who have remained in their home cities. Be their comfort and peace in the midst of the constant threat of violence. Strengthen their faith. Make them a beacon of hope to their enemies and let the name of Christ be spread across the nation, bringing multitudes to saving faith. In the name of Jesus our constant help in times of trouble, Amen.