Iraqi church bombed in 2004

Christians in a Baghdad neighborhood are being required to pay a “protection tax” because Muslims have begun enforcing an Islamic law demanding either the tribute – or conversion to Islam, according to Christians in Iraq.

The report from the Assyrian International News Agency follows on complaints from Iraqi Christians that they have been caught in a no-man’s land between the Coalition forces and Muslim militants in Iraq, watching as their churches have been bombed, and men and women assaulted and killed.

The newest report said Muslims in the Dora neighborhood are forcing Assyrians, who also are known as Chaldeans and Syriacs, but who largely are Christian, to pay the jizya, the poll tax demanded by the Quran.

Christians – and Jews – must pay the tax “in exchange for being allowed to live and practice their faith as well as being entitled to ‘Muslim protection’ from outside aggression,” the agency reported.

The news agency said elements of Al-Qaida have moved into the region, and there is no evidence of any security forces, either from the Iraqi national armed services or Coalition forces being led by the United States.

In one section of the region, “people have been warned by these insurgents to uninstall the satellite dishes since this is ‘haram’ [forbidden] is Islam,” the report said. “Where Christians live in Hay Al-Mualimeen [teachers quarter] and Hay Al-Athorieen [Assyrian quarter] is where they are telling people to convert, leave, pay ‘jizya’ taxation,” AINA reported.

According to an e-mail uncovered by the agency, one person reported that it has been going on for some time.

“We talked to many people within the American Embassy and Iraqi Government, but it seems nobody really cares, because they have done nothing, or sometimes I wonder if they care at all,” said the e-mail, from an unidentified resident in the region.

“Neither the Iraqi nor the U.S. Army have any activity there, and they have delivered Dora to insurgents; and above all the U.S. Army went and put a camp in the Chaldean church [Babylon Theology College] to raise the hate among those Muslims toward Christians, as they are seeing them [as] allies for Americans, and that worsened things more.”

Another Syriac, now a refugee in Syria, confirmed the actions. “Today a family [name withheld] arrived from Dora/Mualimeen street, and they said some terrorists knocked on their door and when they opened the door they were told to either pay money [jizya] or support the insurgents or convert to Islam, or leave the house within 24 hours or else be killed,” the individual said.

AINA had reported several weeks earlier that the practice was beginning. The organization said then that “at least” two cases had been reported to the government in which Christian Assyrian wives had been ordered to go to a certain mosque and make payments, which “they did out of fear.”

“The stated reason for the payment was ‘we do the fighting and you pay to support,'” AINA said.

Such tributes have been collected since the arrival of Islam in 630 A.D., but the last systematic collection by the Turks came to an end in 1918 when the Ottoman empire was defeated and partitioned at the conclusion of World War I.

A report from Assist News said that the names of the individuals who have spoken up were being withheld to protect them from retaliatory actions.

Christians in Iraq repeatedly have sought help from American political leaders, demonstrating in front of the White House just a few months ago to highlight the persecution under which they suffer. Although they represent just 5 percent of the Iraqi population, 40 percent of the refugees fleeing Iraq are Christian.

One of the speakers at the rally, Nina Shea of Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom in D.C., told WND that because of the “ethnic cleansing,” the Christians want an autonomous district in Iraq they can administrate.

Among the atrocities documented just in recent months:

  • Father Paulos Eskandar, of Mor Afrem Syriac Orthodox Church, was kidnapped Oct. 9 by Muslims and decapitated two days later. He was murdered despite Christians fulfilling a demand to post a text on the church doors condemning the pope’s statement about Islam.

  • On Oct. 4, a car bomb detonated in a Christian area and killed nine people, including Georges Zara, member of the Assyrian Chaldean Syriac National Council.

  • A 14-year-old boy was crucified and stabbed in the stomach, mimicking what was done to Jesus, in Albasra.

  • On Oct. 21, in Baquba, a group of veiled Muslims attacked a workplace where a 14-year-old boy named Ayad Tariq worked. The men asked the boy for his identity card. After seeing he was Christian the men asked whether he was a “dirty Christian sinner.” Ayad answered: “Yes, I am Christian, but I am not a sinner.” The rebels yelled he was a dirty Christian sinner and continued to grab him and to scream, “Allahu, Akbar! Allahu, Akbar!” The boy then was decapitated.

  • In August, 13 Assyrian Christian women in Baghdad were kidnapped and murdered.

  • In January, churches were bombed in Basra and Baghdad.

Shea said she has been raising the plight of the Iraqi Christians with the U.S. government for several years, including in a face-to-face meeting with President Bush in her role as a member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

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Iraqi Christians plead for help from White House

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