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Iraqi Christians Concerned With Future Religious Freedom

Iraq is a nation of some religious diversity. Sunni and Shiite Muslims have their respective practices and interests, and so too does the small but significant Christian minority.

It’s Sunday in Baghdad at the Church of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary. Father Bhutrus Haddad is getting ready for Mass.

"All together there are 60 [Christian] churches in Baghdad, the majority are Catholic churches, about 750,000 faithful in all the country," Father Haddad said.

The 700 families in this parish are mostly middle class Iraqis. There is nothing physically to distinguish them from the majority Muslims, except perhaps Christian women in general do not wear the veil, as do these Muslim ladies who have dropped into the Church courtyard for a drink of water. Only about three percent of Iraqis are Christian.

This church is Chaldean, one of the rites of the Catholic Church under the pope in Rome. Several other Catholic rites and Orthodox Churches are also represented in Iraq.

Under the regime of Saddam Hussein, Christians lived quietly and were allowed to practice their religion. Now they are concerned about whether a new government will allow them to continue open practice of their faith, allow them to keep their customs and permit them to maintain their own schools. Antoine Issa, an electrical engineer, is a lector in the parish.

"There are no problems coming through the air since 20 years as I remember," Mr. Issa said. "But now we’re afraid things maybe aren’t right for us because we don’t have any government. There is no peace. There is no security. There is no police, of course. We can’t say for the time being what are our ambitions are, what are we going to do tomorrow."

Security concerns seem at the top of the list for every Iraqi, not just Christians.

One woman parishioner said, "When we come to here every day to the the church, we are afraid of many things…from the thieves. They stole our car. We are afraid when we come. There is no safety now."

Amir George, who works in communications systems, is straightforward in what he wants to see in a new Iraq.

"I want justice, the first thing. Justice, just justice. We have freedom. We have freedom. As a Christian, as a Muslim, it is the same thing for us. We want a good government that gives us some religious rights, as before," Mr. George said.