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Churches Targeted As Tensions Rise – Pray for the Christians of Iraq

Melbourne, Australia, February 1, 2006 – (ANS) – On Sunday 29 January, five car bombs exploded in Kirkuk and Baghdad between 4:10 pm and 4:30 pm. Three people were killed by the Kirkuk bombs which went off outside the Church of the Virgin and an Orthodox church. In Baghdad, car bombs exploded outside the Vatican embassy, the Disciples of St. Peter and Paul Orthodox Church and an Anglican church. At least 14 people altogether were injured. An Assyrian Christian source reported that Assyrian Christian university students in Mosul were beaten by mobs of Muslim students angry about the cartoons of Mohammed published in Denmark last September. It appears the church bombings were also linked to local anger over the Danish cartoons.

(BACKGROUND: As the Copenhagen Post explains: Last year, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten challenged Danish illustrators to submit cartoons of Mohammad, after reports that artists were refusing to illustrate works about Islam for fear of Islamic fundamentalist retribution. Twelve of the cartoons were published to test whether Muslim fundamentalists had begun affecting the freedom of expression in Denmark. Muslims were incensed. The cartoons reappeared in a Norwegian magazine on 10 January, causing tensions to soar to new heights. Clerics and international Islamic bodies are provoking widespread Islamic agitation. Jordan’s parliament has called for the Danish artists to be punished. Libya has closed its embassy [in Denmark]. Muslims are being encouraged to boycott Danish goods. The artists and newspaper editor have received death threats. On 28 January, the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) released a statement decrying the “obnoxious and distasteful act whose gravity is of un-proportional magnitude.”)

On Friday 27 January, Muslims in Baghdad listened to fiery sermons denouncing the Danish and Norwegian publications. Sheikh Hazem al-Aaraji, preaching in his mosque in the Shi’ite Kadhimiya neighborhood of Baghdad, described the cartoons as an attack on Islam. In a subsequent demonstration in Kadhimiya, Muslims marched and shouted slogans including, “Jews, the army of Mohammad and Ali will return.” (This is a ‘war cry’ threat of religious cleansing popularized by Hamas. It refers to the Jews of Khaybar, who were conquered and subjugated by Mohammad in 628 and then expelled, along with the Christians of Najran, from the Arabian Peninsula by Umar in 640 when he ‘cleansed’ it, according to Mohammad’s wish that no religion other than Islam should exist there.) (Turkey) reported that some 10,000 angry Muslims, mainly supporters of Iraqi Shi’ite Leader Muqtada al-Sadr’s deputy, Salah al-Ubaydi, addressed the crowd. After Sunday’s bombings, Iraq’s Muslim Ulema Council released a statement condemning the attacks, declaring, “This is not the way to deal with the newspaper that has offended the prophet Mohammad.”

Iraqi Christians are extremely vulnerable. Sunnis and Shi’ites are reported to be polarizing along sectarian lines with social groups and even whole suburbs becoming less mixed and identifying more by religious affiliation. It is also reportedly the same with student groups in universities. As people, groups and whole communities start to identify by religious affiliation rather than their common Iraqi nationality, the Christian minority find themselves increasingly despised, marginalized and exposed. They are endangered, without equality before the (Islamic) law, having no clan networks and retaliation ideology, and lacking security in a lawless Islamic society. Muslim threats to treat the Christians as the Jews of Khaybar should not be taken lightly. Two-thirds of the Assyrian Christian population died in the Assyrian genocide of 1915. The Jews were massacred and forced out of Iraq in early June 1941 and 1947-51, ending a 2600-year history of Jews in Mesopotamia/Iraq. While over 100,000 Jews were rescued by Israel, the Christians were shamefully abandoned by the West. Anyone who thinks such atrocities could not occur in this enlightened, UN-supervised age of human rights should remember Rwanda 1994, and pray for the Christians of Iraq.

Please pray specifically for:

  • God to mercifully protect, preserve and strengthen His children, His witnesses, in Iraq.

  • The Christians of Iraq to grow in brotherly love, solidarity and spiritual unity, across denominational and racial lines (spiritual victory!).

  • Their growth also in wisdom, faith and prayer with a real sense of urgency for the Holy Spirit to descend upon their nation – may God answer their prayers and reveal His glory.

Prayer: Adapted from Hezekiah’s prayer in Isaiah 37:16, 17, 20

O Lord Almighty, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth.

You are the maker of heaven and earth.

Give ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; listen to the threats made against your children.

Now, O lord, our God, deliver them from the hands of those who would harm them so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O Lord, are God.