Coordinated anti-Christian attacks in Baghdad killed at least three and injured several dozen on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. Mourning the deliberate targeting of Christians, Iraqi prelates said that the attacks “have come to our doorstep” and charged the government with doing nothing to stop the violence.
Using homemade bombs and mortars, the evening attackers bombed homes in the Christian neighborhoods of Baghdad's Mansour district. The next morning saw attacks in Dora, once a largely Christian neighborhood in southern Baghdad, as well as in Baladiyat and at a market largely run by Christians in the Kamp Sara area. A church was also attacked.
One of today's bombings targeted the family of a victim of the Oct. 31 attacks on the Syriac Catholic Our Lady of Salvation Cathedral, where more than 50 people were killed. The terrorists identified the family by the funeral signs still hanging outside their home, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) reports.
National Public Radio's Baghdad correspondent Kelly McEvers noted that when the militant group Islamic State of Iraq attacked the cathedral they demanded the release of women who supposedly converted to Islam and were allegedly being held against their will in Egypt.
“But now, it seems the group is targeting Christians simply because they’re Christians,” she said. “Survivors of the church siege said militants called them ‘infidels’ during the siege. Lately, statements on jihadi websites are saying that Christians are ‘legitimate targets’.”
The Islamic State of Iraq, a reported al-Qaida associate, has claimed responsibility for the attacks.
“Al-Qaida said churches and Christians would be a target. This is proof that they are serious and that they mean what they say,” Archbishop Bashar Warda told ACN.
Warda, who is the Chaldean Archbishop of Erbil in northern Iraq, said the people are suffering “so much fear.”
“There is anger and distress and they don’t know where to turn,” he continued. “I have only one message and that is please pray for us. This is a really difficult time for us. It is just a mess.”
Archbishop Warda called for pressure on the government to provide adequate protection for Christians.
“What we are faced with here is not just a failure of security but a deliberate targeting of Christians,” he warned.
The prelate said the attacks would prompt a further exodus of Christians from Baghdad. He told ACN that until 2003 there were up to 40,000 Christian families living in the city but now there are barely 50 families.
Attacks against Christians in the Iraqi capital peaked in 2004 and again in 2006 but after 2008 seemed to decrease. Archbishop Warda commented that Christians had been returning to Baghdad, especially to the Dora district, before the Oct. 31 attack on the cathedral.
The Dora district’s large number of Catholic churches and religious houses has earned it the nickname “The Vatican of Iraq.”
Other prelates also lamented the attacks.
Bishop Philip Najim, the apostolic procurator representing the Chaldean Church in Rome, says such violence is designed to terrorize the whole population and drive the Christians out of the country. The terrorists are “taking hope from the mind of the Iraqi population,” he said.
“Yes, this is against the Christian people,” he continued. “There is a persecution, (Christians) are attacked because they are a minority in the country.”
Acknowledging that terrorists are also attacking Muslims, he said the whole Iraqi community is being targeted. The bishop noted that the issue of violence in Iraq is a threat to regional stability. He called on the international community to help Iraq achieve peace and security.
Archbishop Atanase Matti Shaba Matoka, the Syrian Catholic Archbishop of Baghdad, also responded to the violence.
“Despite the proclamations, the government does nothing to stop this wave of violence that overwhelms us. There are policemen in front of the churches, but now the homes of our faithful are being attacked.”
Among the Christians affected are Syriac Catholics, Assyrians and other denominations in the district of Dora.
“Terror knocks at our doors. Families are upset. This is no life, they say. They want to drive us out and they are succeeding,”Archbishop Matoka added. “The country is in the throes of destruction and terrorism. The suffering of Christians increases and they want to leave the country. We are left speechless."
Like Archbishop Warda, Archbishop Matoka appealed for swift action from the international community, beseeching Pope Benedict XVI and the Universal Church to aid Iraqi Christians.
“Today we cannot help but hope and pray, entrusting our lives in God's hands. Iraqi Christians, amidst their tears, cry out: In manus tuas, Domine," he commented. The Latin phrase, meaning “Into your hands, Lord,” alludes to the last words of Jesus Christ on the Cross.
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Holy See’s Secretary of State, responded to Archbishop Matoka’s appeal. He affirmed that the protection of Christians in the Middle East "has already been discussed with the Iraqi authorities and taken in serious consideration."
"We are reflecting, as the Synod of Bishops already has, on this huge problem of the persecution of Christians, on this unutterable suffering of the Christian community spread throughout the world in this moment, especially in Iraq,” the cardinal commented to L’Osservatore Romano.