After Baghdad church attack, Christians shocked but say 'we still have a mission here'
At least 58 people were left dead after Iraqi commandos stormed a Baghdad church attacked by Islamist militants.
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The attack, in the midst of a political deadlock which has left Iraq with no new government, could fuel the departure of more Christians from Iraq. More than half of the 800,000 Christian citizens here before the war are believed to have left the country.Skip to next paragraph
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“This is tragic for Christians and for all of Iraq,” says Chaldean Bishop Shlimon Warduni. “If we had a government and laws and people all over the world to help us it would be much better.”
US military praises Iraqi commandos
Iraqi authorities as well as the US military publicly praised the rescue attempt, despite the fact that more than half of the parishioners were killed or seriously wounded. Defense Minister Abdulqadir al-Ubaidi said the insurgents included foreign fighters who intended to kill as many people as possible.
“The operation was a success and many were rescued and we have one suspect in custody,” he told the Furat television channel.
“Last night's operation by the ISF [Iraqi Security Forces] is proof of their tactical competency to provide professional security to the citizens of Iraq,” read a statement from the US military which emphasized that Iraqis were now in charge. “Since June of 2009 the ISF have been responsible for the security within the cities and Operation New Dawn has allowed US-Forces to focus on advising and training the ISF to continue honing their techniques to execute missions that protect Iraqi citizens.”
A US military spokesman said the US role was limited to providing an aerial surveillance feed for the operation but witnesses said a small group of US soldiers were on the ground.
Privately, one Iraqi security official suggested the Iraqi rapid reaction unit known as ‘the Golden’ force had gone overboard when they received intelligence that the insurgents were linked to Al Qaeda.
“When this information reached them, the forces quickly surrounded the church and entered with force, disregarding consequences to all who were inside the church. Their objective was to wipe out the armed group,” said the Interior Ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity. “I don’t know what the armed group would have done to the civilians but it can’t be much worse than what that security force did.”
Residents questioned the lax security in a neighborhood with multiple police checkpoints meant to detect explosives.
"The shooting and the screaming is still in my ears,” says Rajaa. “How can such a car loaded with explosives and weapons, how can the people driving it fully armed pass the checkpoints?” says Rajaa. “This is not a question, this is an accusation.”
'We still have a mission here'
The Rev. Douglas Yousef al-Bazy, who worked with the slain priests, says he was stopped at a roadblock as he desperately tried to drive to the besieged church when he heard the explosions.
“It’s really terrible,” he says. “The people who did this want to kill the church – the priests who served them and the people and even the building. We lost our best friends there. When someone dies we say there is a reason, but actually when they are killed – when they kill young people, young priests, they are trying to kill our future.”
“Those who say we are safe, that we can live peacefully in Iraq, they are liars,” says Father Douglas, who was kidnapped in 2006. “But we will stay in this country because still there are Christian people here and we still have a mission here.”