- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 8, 2005

AIN KAWA, Iraq — For the Toma brothers, life was getting more precarious by the day.

One of them had survived two shootings. Their cousin had been killed. A compact disc of beheadings named them as American agents. “Long Live Saddam Hussein” and “Allahu Akbar” had been painted on their church. It was clearly time to flee.

Too late. As Hani and Khaled Toma backed their car out of the garage to make the two-hour drive from Mosul to the relative safety of Irbil on Sept. 2, a dozen attackers riddled the brothers’ red BMW with bullets, adding two more to the dozens of members of Iraq’s tiny Christian community who have been slain in the post-invasion bloodbath.

In the past year, about 100 families from Mosul have taken refuge in Ain Kawa, a small Christian suburb of the northern Kurdish city of Irbil. Hundreds have fled to other Kurdish-protected villages and towns.

Photos of Hani, 33, and Khaled, 31, hung on the walls of their family’s home away from home. Their mother, Hassina Toma, dug into a black plastic bag and produced the death certificates and police photos of her two sons slumped in the car.

She told of frantically banging on the doors of the hospital morgue to see their bodies, and of burying them quickly and furtively, hurried along by a priest fearful of attracting unwanted attention.

Her surviving sons couldn’t attend, so great was the risk. A quick prayer and it was over. “It all lasted less than a quarter of an hour,” she said.

The funeral was held in Bartala, a town near Mosul where about 10 Christians have been killed, including Tar Butros, the Tomas’ 20-year-old cousin.

She and two other women, cleaners at a U.S. military base in Mosul, were fatally shot as they traveled home from work by bus.

For the brothers, the most direct threat came in a CD titled “Spies,” which was circulating in Mosul and showed three Christians being interrogated by a group calling itself the Salahudin al-Ayoubi Brigade and then decapitated.

One of the victims claimed to be an informant for the Americans and named all five Toma brothers as collaborators.

The parents say Hani Toma was a businessman, and deny any of their sons worked for the Americans.

While they were burying their sons, the home in Mosul where they had lived for 40 years and in which all the boys were born was set on fire. Raad Toma, 32, had been targeted twice, the first time on a July afternoon.

“I was chatting with friends on our street corner. Two masked men walked toward us and shot us with their pistols and fled,” he said. He was hit in the stomach and the arm. Two of his friends also were injured.

A few weeks later, partially recovered, he went out into the street again. A car with five men inside drove by, opening fire on him and two other Christians. A bullet pierced his left leg, damaging a nerve. That is when he moved to Ain Kawa.

“I was afraid they would come to our house and kill us all,” he said.

The Toma family lived in Al Sa’ah, long a predominantly Christian neighborhood of Mosul but in recent years home to increasing numbers of Muslims.

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