Iraqi Christians flee to escape bloodbath
They saw their brethren murdered during Mass and then were bombed in their homes as they mourned. Al-Qaida vowed to hunt them down. Now the Christian community of Iraq, almost as old as the religion itself, is sensing a clear message: It is time to leave.
Since the Oct. 31 bloodbath in their Baghdad church, Iraqi Christians have been fleeing Sunni Muslim extremists who view them as nonbelievers and agents of the West. At a time when Christians in various parts of the Muslim world are feeling pressured, Iraqi Christians are approaching their grimmest Christmas since the U.S.-led invasion of 2003 and wondering if they have any future in their native land.
They have suffered repeated violence and harassment since 2003, when the interreligious peace rigidly enforced by Saddam Hussein fell apart. But the attack on Our Lady of Salvation in which 68 people died appears to have been a tipping point that has driven many to flee northward to the Kurdish enclave while seeking asylum in the U.S. and elsewhere.
What seemed different this time was the way the gunmen brazenly barged onto sacred ground, the subsequent targeting of homes by bombers who clearly knew every Christian address, and the Internet posting in which al-Qaida-linked militants took responsibility for the church attack and vowed a campaign of violence against Christians wherever they are.
Ban Daub, 51, narrowly survived the onslaught. She and her nephew were at prayer when they heard explosions. They escaped before five attackers stormed in, but many of their friends did not. A neighbor died clutching his son and daughter.
Days later, a string of bombs went off outside Christian homes across Baghdad. Daub and her family packed a few belongings and headed to a Christian district called Ainkawa in this Kurdish city of Irbil.
“We are afraid for our sons and our children. There is no life in Baghdad for the Christians,” she says.
Even before the church attack, thousands of Christians were fleeing abroad. They are more than a third of the 53,700 Iraqis resettled in the United States since 2007, according to State Department statistics.