Iraq: Christians facing intimidation

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Christians in Iraq request prayer following two shooting incidents outside churches in the villages of Bartella and Qaraqosh, in the first week of December 2018.

On 1 December, several cars parked in front of the Syrian Catholic “St George” church in Bartella. They claimed to have a wedding and to need to take photos in a photo studio in front of the church. They started shooting automatic weapons into the air for about 30 minutes. Although this is not an unusual practice in wedding celebrations, it is forbidden by the law.

No local authorities came to stop the shooting. Fr. Dr. Behnam Benoka, the Syriac Catholic priest of the village was forced to go to the shooters to ask them to stop. The perpetrators directly threatened him putting a gun in his face.

A similar shooting incident around a Syriac Catholic church in Qaraqosh took place a week later.

The perpetrators identified themselves as Shabak members of the Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU). Shabak are an Iraqi ethnic group following a Shi’a Islam. The PMU are paramilitary forces, supported by Iran, which played an important part in the liberation of the Nineveh Plains.

To date, there have been no efforts to investigate these incidents, bring the perpetrators to justice or to protect the Christian community and church buildings in Bartella and Qaraqosh. Christians in Iraq strongly experience this as intimidation aimed at increasing their feelings of vulnerability and fear.

In the summer of 2014, all Christians of the Nineveh plains were forced to flee their villages because of the IS invasion. Since last year, there have been intensive efforts to have internally displaced Christians return to their villages. However, only about 40% of them went back, while many are still waiting for a chance to emigrate.

The root cause is an continued sense of lack of security, partly a result of unchecked  Shabak infringement on Christian villages.

The ancestral villages, where believers have been living since the early days of Christianity, are an important part of Iraqi Christians sense of identity. Recognizing this, the Iraqi constitution prohibits changing land ownership if it will change the demographics of an area.

Christians have been demanding protection and guarantees for these constitutional rights in the face of Shabaks gaining lands in Christian villages erecting Islamic institutions in it.

Christians in Iraq request us to pray for:

a. the leaders of the church in Iraq, to know the Lord’s peace, wisdom and guidance in the face of ongoing pressures
b. Iraqi Christians, to stand strong and be bold, in facing continued intimidations and threats
c. protection for Fr. Benoka, other Church leaders and all Christians in the Nineveh plain
d. the authorities to investigate these shootings and bring the perpetrators to justice
e. for more tolerance in the Iraqi society, and an end to the intimidations and infringement on Christian villages, creating an atmosphere that would encourage Christians to return to their villages

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