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Iraqi Christians Caught in the Crossfire


The news media often focus on the conflict between Shi’ites and Sunni Muslims in Iraq. But there are other ethnic and religious groups under attack. The small Christian community in Iraq is now finding itself caught in the crossfire of sectarian violence. VOA's Brian Padden reports many Christians are moving north to find safety in the Kurdish-controlled region of the country.

Christians attend mass at St. Joseph's Church in Irbil, in the northern Kurdish region of Iraq, as they have done for thousands of years. But today the number of Christians living here is growing, as more seek refugee from the sectarian violence devastating much of the country.

Father Tariq Choucha says what is happening now is not the persecution of Christians -- but indiscriminate killing by terrorists. “The news talks about the suicide bomber when he puts on that belt of explosives. He goes to a popular market. Who is in the market? There is Kurd, Christian, Arab. There are Sunnis and Shias. So when he blows himself up he doesn't just kill Christians and Shias. The terrorist, he has no allegiance.”

But this group of Christian refugees in the city of Irbil says the violence against Christians is part of a deliberate strategy to intimidate minority groups. One man -- who asked that his face be concealed for fear of retribution -- is a doctor from the city of Mosul.

“The Christians are targeted more there. Our number in the city is small. So when they target a few of us, it will be for the population, very big,” he told us.

Basam Hannah, his wife, and child fled Baghdad after a car bomb exploded in front of their church, nearly killing them. They lost everything they had and now live with three other families in a small house in Irbil.

Hannah says the Christian community in Baghdad is too small to protect itself from the insurgents. “They choose the Christians because we are seen as weak and because we would like to live in peace.”

Children laugh and run in the streets of the Ankawa neighborhood of Irbil. Old men play dominos on the sidewalks. For the Christians who have come here, there is a sense of safety in numbers.

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