In the latest and most dramatic evidence an all-out jihad has been declared against Iraq’s minority Christian population, car bombs exploded outside at least five Christian churches today, killing more than a dozen people and wounding scores more in an apparently coordinated attack timed to coincide with evening prayers.
“We are expecting a huge number of casualties,” an Interior Ministry source told Reuters, saying there had been four blasts at churches in Baghdad and two in the northern city of Mosul. Police in Mosul said they knew of just one church attack there.
In the worst attack, a suicide car bomber drove into the car park at a Chaldean church in southern Baghdad before detonating his vehicle, killing at least 12 people as worshippers left the building, witnesses said.
A U.S. military spokesman said three of the four attacks in Baghdad were known to be suicide car bombings.
An explosion at the Armenian church in Baghdad shattered stained glass windows and hurled chunks of hot metal.
Another bomb exploded about 15 minutes later outside the nearby Assyrian church, where medics dragged a man from a car, his arm almost torn off.
An ambulance driver told Reuters that two people were killed in the explosion at the Assyrian church and several wounded. U.S. Colonel Mike Murray of the 1st Cavalry Division said at least 50 people had been wounded at the church, some seriously.
In Mosul, officials said at least one person was killed in a blast at a church and 15 wounded.
No one knows with certainty how many Christians live in Iraq because they were not part of census statistics kept by Saddam Hussein. However, estimates run as high as 10 percent of the 25 million population.
The U.S. military says a computer disk captured earlier this year contained a letter from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian militant allied to al Qaeda, calling for attacks on Iraqi Shi’ites to try to spark sectarian conflict in Iraq.
Though news reports today characterized the attacks as the first against Christian churches in Iraq, they were not. WND has chronicled the increasing persecution experienced by Iraqi Christians since the country was liberated.
Christians and churches have received letters in Arabic threatening that if they don’t follow Islamic practice and support “the resistance,” they will face the consequences: “torture, and burning or exploding the house with the family in it,” says Elizabeth Kendal, researcher for the World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission.
Mandaean Christians, who follow the teachings of John the Baptist, have been receiving the same threats and suffering the same violence, Kendal says.
The unchecked Islamic aggression is forcing the Christians to flee, she states, citing some examples.
On June 7, four masked men drove into the Christian Assyrian Quarters of the Dora district of Baghdad and opened fire on Assyrians going to work. Four were killed and several others wounded.
In the afternoon, the same day, three Assyrian women were killed in another drive-by shooting as they returned home from working at the Coalition Provisional Authority.
On 22 March, an elderly Assyrian couple was murdered in the Assyrian district. The wife was beaten to death and the husband had his throat cut.
As WND previously reported, Ken Joseph Jr., an Assyrian who directs Assyrianchristians.com, says several developments that “bode ill for Christians in Iraq are causing believers to flee the nation.”
Kendal says the Assyrian Christians greatly fear that the history of abandonment and massacre of their minority group is about to repeat itself.
Historians regard the Assyrians as the indigenous people of Iraq. In biblical times, their homeland was centered around the Nineveh plains in Upper Mesopotamia, now northern Iraq, where they were visited by the prophet Jonah. The Assyrian Church of the East was founded in AD 33. Some 600 years later Arab invaders put the Assyrians under Muslim domination.
Invasions over the centuries nearly eliminated them. The Assyrians fought for the Allies in World War I and were promised autonomy in their homeland upon victory. But they were abandoned to the mercy of the Ottoman Turks when the British mandate was lifted in 1932, resulting in the massacre of two-thirds of the population.
In Saddam Hussein’s secular state, the Assyrian remnant suffered severely under his discriminatory ethnic policy of Arabization.