"If we stay, they will kill us."
Archbishop Athanasius Toma Dawod, a senior Iraqi church leader
Christians in Iraq are living in a state of constant fear after a series of co-ordinated blasts targeting Christian neighbourhoods followed a bloody siege at a Baghdad church. Two Sundays ago, as faithful Christian believers gathered at church in Baghdad to worship, Al-Qaeda attacked.
They took about 120 worshipers hostage, beat and killed three priests, and detonated explosives moments before Iraqi security forces stormed the church in a rescue attempt. At least 64 people, mostly worshippers – including a 3-year-old – were massacred and an estimated 300 wounded.
Yesterday morning, in another well executed attack, at least four people were killed and around 25 injured when roadside bombs and mortar shells targeted homes and a church in six districts across central Baghdad – all of them areas that are predominantly Christian. An interior ministry source told Reuters, "These operations, which targeted Christians, came as a continuation of the attack that targeted the church."
Al-Qaeda’s Iraq splinter group, the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) who was responsible for the attack, issued the following statement soon after the attack:
"All Christian centers, organizations and institutions, leaders and followers, are legitimate targets for the mujahedeen wherever they can reach them.”
A Baghdad church leader said that Iraqi Christians were "panicked" and did not know what to do. 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."
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 exodus is expected to accelerate in light of the latest outbreak of violence.
Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, International Director of Barnabas Fund, said:
"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."
- For all who have lost loved ones in the attacks and that the Lord will grant peace to those who are anxious about further violence.
- That Iraqi Christians will find comfort, hope and strength in the Lord at this time.
- For wisdom and guidance for Christian families in Iraq as they consider whether or not to stay in their homeland.
- That the new Iraqi government, reportedly formed just yesterday after eight months of deadlock, will be strong and stable. Pray that it will exercise its authority over this escalating security crisis.