By BosNewsLife Middle East Service
BAGHDAD, IRAQ (BosNewsLife)– Christians in Iraq feared further attacks Thursday, November 11, after co-ordinated bombings in Christian areas of Baghdad killed at least four people and injured 25 others, less than two weeks after a failed hostage-taking at a church in the capital left scores of casualties.
Local police said there had been at least 11 separate explosions in three mostly Christian areas of Baghdad, Wednesday, November 10. It came as Al-Qaeda’s branch in Iraq said its gunmen carried out the October 31 attack in the Baghdad church that killed dozens of worshipers and two priests, and warned of more violence against Christians.
“All Christian centers, organizations and institutions, leaders and followers, are legitimate targets for the mujahedeen (holy warriors) wherever they can reach them,” said a statement by the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), the local branch of Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda network.
Baghdad’s Chaldean bishop, Shlimoune Wardouni, said the threat “is very negative; it is very bad for our people (Christians).”
Barnabas Fund, an advocacy group investigating reports of persecution of Christians in predominantly Muslim nations, told BosNewsLife that Christians did not know what to do next as they get conflicting signals from church leaders.
“Archbishop Athanasius Toma Dawod, a senior Iraqi church leader in London, warned of a pending “genocide” and urged Christians to flee the country, while a senior cleric in Baghdad called for them to stay and bear witness to the faith, adding, ‘But people are human, and we can’t stop them leaving’,” Barnabas Fund added.
Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christians have already been driven from their homeland over the last 20 years because of attacks by Muslim extremists, the group said.
The exodus is expected to accelerate in light of the latest outbreak of violence, explained Barnabas Fund International Director Patrick Sookhdeo. “My heartfelt prayers go out to the Baghdad Christian community, which is clearly under siege by Islamist militants who want to rid the entire country of Christians. I fear these latest attacks may precipitate the end of the Church in Iraq.”
There were at least 750,000 Christians when the US-led invasion of Iraq began in 2003, but hundreds of thousands are believed to have left the country, according to several church groups.
Christians have been living in Iraq since the beginning of Christianity, according to experts. The Church of the East came into being in the 1st century in Assyria, Babylonia, and Persia, which today is Iraq, southeast Turkey and western Iran. The Christian faith was spread east of the Roman-Byzantine Empire by Thomas, one of the 12 apostles of Jesus, according to scholars.
Most Iraqi Christians are Chaldeans, or Eastern-rite Catholics, and some Chaldeans still speak Aramaic, which is believed to have been the language of Jesus.
Assyrians, descendants of the ancient empires of Assyria and Babylonia, adopted Christianity in the 1st century. The Assyrian kingdom was centered on the upper Tigris River.
Other ancient churches include Syrian Catholics, Armenian Orthodox and Armenian Catholic Christians. There are also Greek Orthodox and Greek Catholic churches and Anglicans as well as a growing evangelical movement in the country.