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Iraq: Churches Targeted As Tensions Rise

February 2, 2006

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin - No. 363 - Wed 01 Feb 2006

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IRAQ: CHURCHES TARGETED AS TENSIONS RISE
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On Sunday 29 January, five car bombs exploded in Kirkuk and Baghdad
between 4:10pm and 4:30pm. Three people were killed by the Kirkuk
bombs which went off outside the Church of the Virgin and an Orthodox
church. In Baghdad, car bombs exploded outside the Vatican embassy,
The Disciples of St Peter and Paul Orthodox church and an Anglican
church. At least 14 people altogether were injured. An Assyrian
Christian source reported that Assyrian Christian university students
in Mosul were beaten by mobs of Muslim students angry about the
cartoons of Mohammed published in Denmark last September. It appears
the church bombings were also linked to local anger over the Danish
cartoons.

(BACKGROUND. As the Copenhagen Post explains: last year, the Danish
newspaper Jyllands-Posten challenged Danish illustrators to submit
cartoons of Mohammad after reports that artists were refusing to
illustrate works about Islam for fear of Islamic fundamentalist
retribution. Twelve of the cartoons were published to test whether
Muslim fundamentalists had begun affecting the freedom of expression
in Denmark. Muslims were incensed. The cartoons reappeared in a
Norwegian magazine on 10 January, causing tensions to soar to new
heights. Clerics and international Islamic bodies are provoking
widespread Islamic agitation. Jordan\'s parliament has called for the
Danish artists to be punished. Libya has closed its embassy. Muslims
are being encouraged to boycott Danish goods. The artists and
newspaper editor have received death threats. On 28 January the
Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) released a statement
decrying the \'obnoxious and distasteful act whose gravity is of un-
proportional magnitude\'.)

On Friday 27 January, Muslims in Baghdad listened to fiery sermons
denouncing the Danish and Norwegian publications. Sheikh Hazem al-
Aaraji, preaching in his mosque in the Shi\'ite Kadhimiya neighborhood
of Baghdad, described the cartoons as an attack on Islam. In a
subsequent demonstration in Kadhimiya, Muslims marched and shouted
slogans including, \'Jews, the army of Mohammad and Ali will return.\'
(This is a \'war cry\' threat of religious cleansing popularised by
Hamas. It refers to the Jews of Khaybar who were conquered and
subjugated by Mohammad in 628 and then expelled, along with the
Christians of Najran, from the Arabian Peninsula by Umar in 640 when
he \'cleansed\' it according to Mohammad\'s wish that no religion other
than Islam should exist there.) Zaman.com (Turkey) reported that
some 10,000 angry Muslims, mainly supporters of Iraqi Shiite Leader
Muqtada Al-Sadr, protested in Baghdad against the newspaper and the
Danish government. Al-Sadr\'s deputy, Salah Al Ubaydi, addressed the
crowd. After Sunday\'s bombings, Iraq\'s Muslim Ulema Council released
a statement condemning the attacks, declaring, \'This is not the way
to deal with the newspaper that has offended the prophet Mohammad.\'

Iraqi Christians are extremely vulnerable. Sunnis and Shi\'ites are
reported to be polarising along sectarian lines with social groups
and even whole suburbs becoming less mixed and identifying more by
religious affiliation. It is also reportedly the same with student
groups in universities. As people, groups and whole communities start
to identify by religious affiliation rather than their common Iraqi
nationality, the Christian minority find themselves increasingly
despised, marginalised and exposed. They are endangered, without
equality before the (Islamic) law, having no clan networks and
retaliation ideology, and lacking security in a lawless Islamic
society. Muslim threats to treat the Christians as the Jews of
Khaybar should not be taken lightly. Two-thirds of the Assyrian
Christian population died in the Assyrian genocide of 1915. The Jews
were massacred and forced out of Iraq in early June 1941 and 1947-51,
ending a 2600-year history of Jews in Mesopotamia/Iraq. While over
100,000 Jews were rescued by Israel, the Christians were shamefully
abandoned by the West. Anyone who thinks such atrocities could not
occur in this enlightened, UN-supervised age of human rights should
just remember Rwanda 1994, and pray for the Christians of Iraq.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR:

* God to mercifully protect, preserve and strengthen his children,
his witnesses, in Iraq.

* the Christians of Iraq to grow in brotherly love, solidarity and
spiritual unity, across denominational and racial lines (spiritual
victory!).

* their growth also in wisdom, faith and prayer with a real sense of
urgency for the Holy Spirit to descend upon their nation - may God
answer their prayers and reveal his glory.

Prayer: adapted from Hezekiah\'s prayer in Isaiah 37:16,17,20

O Lord Almighty, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the
earth. You are the maker of heaven and earth. Give ear, O Lord, and
hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; listen to the threats made
against your children. Now, O Lord, our God, deliver them from the
hands of those who would harm them, so that all kingdoms on earth may
know that you alone, O Lord, are God. Amen.

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SUMMARY TO USE IN BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE:
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IRAQI CHURCHES TARGETED AS TENSIONS RISE

Religious tensions are high in Iraq with most social groups and
localities now polarised as majority Sunni or Shi\'ite Muslim. This
renders Iraqi Christians exposed and vulnerable. Tensions in Iraq
have been further inflamed by an incident in far-away Scandinavia.
Last year a Danish newspaper published 12 cartoons on Mohammad,
causing a Muslim outcry. The cartoons recently reappeared in a
Norwegian magazine. Now international Islamic bodies are provoking
widespread Islamic agitation. On Friday 27 January, Muslims in
Baghdad angrily demonstrated against \'the attack on Islam\' and issued
threats against Iraqi non-Muslims. The following Sunday, car bombs
exploded outside two churches in Kirkuk, killing three, and outside
two churches and the Vatican embassy in Baghdad. Many were injured.
An Assyrian source reports several Assyrian Christian university
students in Mosul were beaten by angry Muslims. Please pray for Iraqi
Christians.

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RL Prayer is moderated by Ron Clough, a commissioner
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Elizabeth Kendal researched and authored this message.