- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 6, 2004

BAGHDAD - Two tear-shaped drops of blood remained on the living-room floor, days after Muslim fanatics shot their way into a home and executed two children because the family is Christian.

Now, some Iraqi Chaldean Christians say they fear that militants will attack churches in Baghdad on Easter Sunday.

Chaldea was the name 2,000 years ago of a portion of Iraq, then part of the Persian Empire. Chaldean Christians broke from the early Christian church over the question of Jesus’ divinity but were reunited with the Roman Catholic Church in the 1670s.

“Our people are afraid of some sort of massacre on Easter. Four churches have come to us to ask about how to hire security,” said Isoh Barnsavm, an officer in the Bethnahrain Patriotic Union, one of several political parties that represent segments of Iraq’s million-strong Christian minority.

“Neighbors are now receiving threatening letters. Some of the threats are from unknown groups,” Mr. Barnsavm said. “Others are from Ansar al-Islam,” a group linked with al Qaeda that was targeted by U.S.-led forces during the war.

“They say, ‘You have to be a Muslim, or else we will kill you.’”

Late last month, the family of the two murdered children received a note warning that they would be killed and “doomed to hell.”

The next day, the gunman came and killed the two children, each with an AK-47 rifle shot to the head that left blood flowing across the living room. Their mother and several other children in the house were allowed to live, presumably to tell others.

Some blood remains on the floor and wall, where a framed picture of the Virgin Mary with a golden halo looks out over the room.

Sleepless nights

Two uncles have since moved in to protect the family.

One of the men, disheveled after another sleepless night spent clutching his own AK-47, pleaded with a visiting reporter for help as his eyes filled with tears.

“How can you guarantee we won’t be killed? We can’t sleep. We can’t go out to work. We’re so scared that we are carrying our guns all the time. It all happened in less than 10 seconds,” the uncle said.

The mother, rail thin beneath her black mourning dress, sat quietly with her surviving children.

Mr. Barnsavm said: “There have been hundreds of attacks. Every day we hear of a new attack.” He estimated that up to 200 Iraqi Christians have been killed by Muslim extremists since the war began last year.

Many have been killed while working as interpreters for the coalition, in attacks that had no apparent religious motive.

But Mr. Barnsavm says he is especially worried about incidents in which people are targeted simply because they are Christian.

In the killing of the two children, the warning was written on a computer, printed and reproduced on a photocopier. It was signed Ansar al-Islam. It accused the family of selling “narcotic liquid,” an apparent euphemism for alcoholic beverages. In Iraq, only Christians are permitted to buy or sell alcohol.

Officials at the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority declined to comment for this article.

A public information officer said the case of the murdered children was a matter for the Iraqi Interior Ministry to take up as a “police case, such as breaking and entering or murder.”

An officer at the U.S. Consulate, asked by e-mail for information on how a family would go about applying for political asylum, said she was not authorized to talk to the press.

Members of the Bethnahrain party say they have no access to anyone in the coalition.

“They won’t even allow me into the CPA building because I have no badge,” said one senior party official, who asked not to be named.

Chaldean minority

Chaldean Christians are said to number about 600,000 in Iraq, with at least twice that many having emigrated to the United States, Western Europe and Australia over the years. A large Chaldean community thrives in Southfield, Mich.

“We have one family who has been threatened with a note: ‘If you visit a church, we will kill you,’” said the senior Bethnahrain party official, who is also a history professor and well-known writer.

In Iraq, the Chaldeans are particularly upset because they are not represented on the 25-member Iraqi Governing Council, which was appointed by the chief U.S. administrator, L. Paul Bremer.

The one non-Muslim member of the council, Yonadam Kanna, represents Assyrian Christians, the smallest of three main Christian groups. A third group, Syriac Christians, is divided into Catholics loyal to Rome and Orthodox members with a patriarch.

Iraq’s interim constitution was accepted by the Iraqi Governing Council. But 12 of 25 members did so under protest and demanded there be changes after June 30, when the document takes effect.

The constitution proclaims Islam the state religion.

Elsewhere, it mentions Turkmen and Chaldo-Assyrians as examples of minorities whose rights are to be protected.

“It doesn’t say what a Chaldo-Assyrian is. We never heard the term before. Is it a nation? Is it an ethnic group, a religion?” asked Nahrain Kohoshaba Toma, leader of the Bethnahrain Free Woman’s Union of Iraq.

“We need to work with coalition forces to provide some sort of security for Christian families. Arab have clans. They have security from their clans. Kurds have clans.

“Christians don’t have clans. They need security, and it starts with the law. Read the new constitution; it does not even say that Christians exist in Iraq,” Miss Toma said.

Mr. Barnsavm said a religious war is already under way in Iraq. He sometimes uses the terms “clash of cultures” and “clash of civilizations” terms that U.S. officials avoid.

“On one side there’s globalization, the borderless world, the concept of democracy, culture that flows across borders. Now the central power against this new system comes from the Middle East, from the Islamic fanatics and a tribal culture.

“This is not just the Muslims against Christians. It’s the fanatical Islamists striking the West. The Kurds near the Iranian border are being attacked by Ansar al-Islam, which says they are not real Muslims.

“But the fanatics see us as part of the West, so we become the first target inside the country,” Mr. Barnsavm said.

Saddam Hussein’s government gave a measure of protection to Christians and other religious minorities. None among dozens of Christians interviewed in the past month suggested they miss him.

“We are quite happy that Saddam is gone, to end the rule of such a dictator,” Mr. Barnsavm said. “The attacks that are happening to us are the price we pay for a new system, ending a dictatorship and building a new system.

“We paid for these kinds of changes throughout history with our blood, every time in history there was a conflict between East and West.”

Much of the blood spilled by Muslim fanatics in post-Saddam Iraq has been from Mandeans, a Biblical sect known for its white robes, river baptisms and devotion to the teachings of John the Baptist.

“After the war, we have documented 49 kidnappings, killings and rapes against Mandeans in different parts of Iraq,” said Karam Majeed, who is creating an organization to preserve Mandean culture.

Shortly after the war, a senior Muslim cleric based in southern Iraq published a fatwa, or religious edict, on his Web site: “When we consider Mandeans, we don’t know much about their religion, but they are unclean.”

Said Mr. Majeed: “This is a very dangerous order because it means a Muslim cannot have contact with a Mandean. It also means that Muslims have the right to attack Mandeans. They don’t consider it a crime to attack someone who is ‘unclean.’”

He read from a dossier of attacks during the past year:

In Sadr City, a vast Shi’ite slum that houses more than half of Baghdad’s 5 million people, gunshots were fired into shops owned by Mandeans and the words “your day is coming” were written on a wall.

A woman in Baghdad was handed a note that read: “You are a Mandean, so you must pay 1 million Iraqi dinars , or we will kill your three daughters.”

In Falluja, the stronghold of Sunni Muslim insurgence a city now sealed off by U.S. Marines after the murder-mutilation of four Americans last week Mandean families have been forced to convert to Islam.

If they refuse, they must leave Falluja or be killed.

In the city of Kut, five houses owned by Mandeans were blown up, one last April and four in June.

Police efforts

The police are typically of little help, and little effort is made to differentiate between common crime and attacks motivated by religion.

When people are kidnapped for ransom a crime that has become commonplace but was unheard of in Saddam’s time police often tell families of whatever religious faith to pay the kidnappers because there is nothing they can do.

As for crimes with a clear religious motive, the situation is even worse, said Mr. Majeed. “We can’t even go to the Interior Ministry. They won’t even admit there is Islamic persecution of minority religions. The only people who can do anything about this are the Americans.”

The spiritual leader of the Mandeans, Satar Jabar, who has a long white beard, has written several letters to Mr. Bremer but received no response.

“We don’t have representation in the Governing Council or any of the ministries. They didn’t ask us for anything,” Mr. Jabar said.

As for the family of the two murdered children, an aid group took the father to Amman, Jordan, and two uncles moved in to guard the wife and children, whose shy smiles belie their recurring nightmares of the attackers coming back.

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