On October 31, 2010 Al Qaeda in Iraq attacked the Our Lady of Salvation Assyrian Catholic Church in Baghdad. Insurgents with suicide vests held around 100 people hostage for four hours. An Iraqi anti-terrorist squad stormed the church, killing eight insurgents, but not before they set off their explosives leading to 58 dead, and 67 wounded. It was one of the deadliest attacks upon Iraq’s Christian community since 2003. Al Qaeda originally claimed that they were conducting the raid to free two women in Egypt who were forced to join the Coptic Church. Al Qaeda later said that it would attack more Christians. That happened in the following weeks with 2 mortar rounds and 11 roadside bombs going off within an hour in three Christian communities in central Baghdad on November 10 that killed five and left twenty wounded. Iraqi forces quickly rounded up the culprits by November, and paraded them before the media in December. A few of those suspects later stated that the sole purpose of the church attack was to gain publicity. One militant said that the church was in central Baghdad near media outlets so the raid was assured to receive mass coverage.
Christian leaders urged their followers not to panic and stay put, but a large number of families did not listen. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that 133 Christian families had registered as refugees in Syria and 109 more in Jordan following the October attack. An Assyrian Catholic priest in Beirut told the Guardian newspaper that another 450 families had recently arrived there in December as well. There were other reports that people had gone to Turkey too. A large number of Christians had already left Iraq since the fall of Saddam. The U.N. estimates that there were around 1 million Christians in Iraq before 2003, and now there are only around 500,000 left.
An even larger number of Christians headed north to Ninewa and Kurdistan where there are long standing Christian communities. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) found 1,757 internally displaced Christian families in December. 1,496 of them were in the Ninewa plains, north of the provincial capital Mosul, and in the three provinces of Kurdistan, Dohuk, Irbil, and Sulaymaniya. Ninewa had the most with 1,163 families. An IOM survey of 894 families in Ninewa and Kurdistan said that 46% wanted to go back home, 31% wanted to settle in another location, while 23% wanted to integrate with the communities where they currently resided. Kurdistan has been home to a large number of displaced Christians since Saddam’s time. (1) Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani also promised to protect Christians if they moved there in November. The Ninewa Plains has been a Christian area of Iraq for centuries.
|(International Organization for Migration )|
1. International Organization for Migration, “Dohuk, Erbil & Sulaymaniyah, Governorate Profiles Post-February 2006 IDP Needs Assessments,” December 2008
Agence France Presse, “39 al Qa’eda suspects arrested in Iraq,” 12/2/10
Ahmed, Hamid, “Attacks target Iraq’s Christians again, kill 5,” Associated Press, 11/10/10
Arraf, Jane, “US shows concern over Iraq’s mass arrest of Al Qaeda-linked suspects,” Christian Science Monitor, 12/5/10
Chulov, Martin, “Iraqi Christians flee Baghdad after cathedral massacre,” Guardian, 12/17/10
Al Dulaimy, Mohammed and Bengali, Shashank, “With U.S. forces set to go soon, Iraqi police step up,” McClatchy Newspapers, 1/21/11
Earth Times, “Marked increase in Iraqi Christians fleeing to Jordan,” 12/21/10
International Organization for Migration, “Displacement of Christians To The North Of Iraq,” 12/15/10
- “Dohuk, Erbil & Sulaymaniyah, Governorate Profiles Post-February 2006 IDP Needs Assessments,” December 2008
Al-Khatib, Basel, “More than 500 Iraqi Christian families flee to Kurdish north,” Azzaman, 11/29/10
Latif, Nizar, “Iraqis fear al Qa’eda revival as 52 die in church siege,” The National, 11/2/10
Salaheddin, Sinan, “Al-Qaida in Iraq threatens attacks on Christians,” Associated Press, 11/3/10