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Iraqi Christians attacked ahead of Iraq election

Killings of Iraqi Christians in the northern city of Mosul have sparked an exodus from the Arab-controlled city to Kurdish areas. The number of Iraqi Christians attacked has spiked in the run-up to elections, scheduled for Sunday.

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Although security has improved in Mosul over the past year, the latest killings and death threats delivered by text message have prompted hundreds of families to leave. Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq has become a haven for thousands of Christians fleeing violence in Mosul, less than an hour’s drive away.

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Under Saddam Hussein, Kurds were expelled from their homes in Kirkuk and Mosul to the Kurdish territories. Kurdish peshmerga checkpoints on the informal boundary marking Kurdish territory now keep a tight rein on who comes into the region.

When the Kurdish soldiers saw the framed photograph of Vivian’s father with a black ribbon around it, they gave their condolences and waved them through, Vivian says.

Exodus

The Dahan family is a dramatic example of the steady exodus of Christians from their homes in northern Iraq, where they have coexisted for centuries with their Muslim neighbors.

Warda’s father was a priest who was injured when a missile landed on his church in Mosul during the Iran-Iraq war. He and her mother and brothers and sisters were given asylum in Sweden, where her father later died. She hasn’t seen her family since then.

Warda’s eldest daughter, Revan, fled to Sweden two years ago after her husband was kidnapped and his shop blown up in Baghdad. He was later released and joined her in Sweden, which now has 100,000 Iraqi refugees.

Vivian is convinced her brothers would be killed if they went back to Mosul. They would like to join their relatives in Sweden, but as is the case with all countries, applications for asylum have to be made outside Iraq and the family has no money to leave. The recently opened Swedish consulate in Erbil issues visas only for business delegations.

“You see those refugees wandering the earth – we’ve become like that in our own country,” says Vivian, who was married just a month before her father was killed.
Pope Benedict XVI, in an address on Sunday from St. Peter’s Square, called on Iraqi authorities to keep vulnerable religious minorities safe. The chief United Nations representative here has also expressed concern about the targeted killing of Christians in the run-up to Sunday’s parliamentary elections.

The killings ahead of the national vote have raised concerns that Christians will be too afraid to go to the polls. The murders are widely viewed as an attempt not only to eradicate the Christian community but to tilt the balance of power in Mosul, where Kurdish and Arab political forces have been battling for control.

The estimated 750,000 Christians who have left or been forced out of their communities since 2003 have left behind businesses and homes that in many cases are still empty.

“The struggles aren’t just about faith – this is a struggle for political power and control of land and resources,” says Anne Ward, a humanitarian worker with the Chaledean Catholic community in Erbil.

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