Chaldean Catholic Bishop Mer Patros said this week a possible incursion into the northern Iraq by Turkish forces in to order to combat Kurdish militias would affect Iraqi Christians the most.
Turkey has amassed troops on its border with Iraq in the region of Kurdistan and has launched sporadic attacks on Kurdish separatists who operate in Turkey but seek refuge among the population of northern Iraq.
Pope Benedict added his voice to those who are concerned about the situation. Following the praying of the Angelus yesterday, the pontiff said, "I would like to encourage every effort to reach a peaceful resolution to the problems that have recently surfaced between Turkey and the Iraqi Kurds."
According to Bishop Patros, whose see is in Dohuk, Iraqi Christians, have been reduced in recent years to half of what they once were. These Christians “fear a Turkish attack in Kurdistan more than anyone because they have no where to go after having been exiled once, twice and even three times to escape the violence.”
Of the some 600,000 Christians who are still in Iraq, he said, 250,000 of them live in Kurdistan.
“Christians are the objects of an authentic persecution in Iraq and only here, in Kurdistan, do we find peace thanks to the tolerance of the autonomous Kurdish government,” Bishop Patros stated.
“Because of the American occupation of the country, we are considered accomplices because we are Christians like them; and then there are the Muslim fanatics who want to purify Iraq and the Middle East of Christians,” he explained.
After the fall of Saddam Hussein, Iraqi Christians began to suffer personal attacks and attacks on churches. Those with greater financial resources fled to other countries, but the poor moved to the Kurdish mountains.
“These poor people have exhausted all of their possibilities. The only thing they can do is take shelter in a tent,” Bishop Patros said. “There are some who want to exterminate Eastern Christianity, and decent Muslims don’t do anything either to defend us.”