Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Attack Upon Assyrian Catholic Church In Baghdad Led To Flight Of Christians To Northern Iraq

In the last quarter of 2010 Al Qaeda in Iraq launched a series of attacks upon Iraq’s Christian community. That began with a raid upon a Catholic church in Baghdad, followed by a series of bombings and mortar attacks upon Christian neighborhoods in the capital. Despite calls from the church leadership for community members to remain calm, and not to flee, a large exodus of families began moving to northern Iraq to join Christian communities there, or left for neighboring countries.

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 )
Islamists have attacked Christians in Iraq since the 2003 invasion. They have been singled out for being non-Muslims, because militants associate them with the west, and because assaulting them is likely to get worldwide press coverage. Those all played out in the raid upon the Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad. As in the past, a number of Christian families fled north, and to neighboring countries. Almost half of those that moved to Ninewa and Kurdistan, said that they want to return to their homes in time. This has happened before after similar attacks. Those having gone to another country however, are less likely to go back, reducing the overall population once again.


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


Anonymous said...

Thanks for mentioning this tragedy which shocked Iraq and the Christian World 3 months late! Anyway, and regardless of the allegations and accusations made by Al Maliki and his partisans to Al Qaeda of being responsible for this terrorist attack, here are facts that indicate conspiracy if not involvement by at least some senior commanders of Baghdad Operations Command which reports to Al Maliki directly and raises questions about Al Qaeda role:
- The uncensored version of the statement of an eyewitness who survived confirms that one of the terrorists was called Abu Karrar. And Karrar is a typical Shi’a name that the real Al Qaeda will never use!
- Who ordered the removal of the steel fence around the perimeter of the church about 30 hours before the attack?
- Who ordered the pullout of the Federal Police vehicle used to be positioned in front of the main gate of the church few hours before the attack?
- Where and how the video recordings of the Iraqi Stock Market cameras (located just across the street) for the period 5:00 PM until midnight disappeared?
- And, most importantly, what are the outcomes of the investigation committee ordered by Al Maliki and comprised the ministers of defense, interior and state for national security? And why nobody in Baghdad Operations Command was held responsible?

These are few of many many questions that have no answers!

Joel Wing said...


The Iraqi security forces are definitely infiltrated by insurgents, gangs, and militias. There are numerous stories about it each month. In fact, on Jan. 12 a spokesman for the Baghdad Operations Command told the press that it had been infiltrated by members of the Islamic Army of Iraq after they'd arrested some of their commanders. These operations can probably never be completely ended, but they can at least be limited, which will hopefully also be part of the general professionalization of the security forces and reduction of the militants.

Anonymous said...

Anon, the information you've provided in your post is quite intriguing...do you have any links about those events?
I too, am wary of automatically blaming every terrorist attack on Al Qaida etc when so many armed groups, including those part of the government, have a motivation in some for or another.

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