A church rocked to its ancient foundations


Globe and Mail Update

George W. Bush and Tony Blair claim to have made the world a safer place by invading and occupying Iraq. Whether they have remains to be seen.

What is certain is that they have rendered Iraq far, far more unsafe for the average Iraqi, and my own Christian relatives in particular.

Refugee officials in Damascus now estimate that Iraqi Christians, about 3 per cent of the country's total population, make up 20 per cent of Iraqi refugees in Syria.

If you think about how hard life was under Saddam Hussein's regime, to have made it so much worse seems particularly horrendous and irresponsible.

It's impossible for me to understand how postwar planning for Iraq never included (and still does not include) guarding the huge Iraqi border with Iran, Syria, Jordan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

I guess the war strategists didn't think there was much anti-U.S. sentiment in any of these countries that might spill over into Iraq. How can we believe the Bush/Blair line that their invasion has made the country safer?

I have been communicating with my Iraqi relatives in Baghdad since the war "ended" and their stories have been chilling. When I asked my cousin a few weeks ago how he was doing, he said, "Still alive."

He told me that he had been in Al-Rasheed Street to go to the Central Bank a few days previously, and the next day a bomb exploded in the exact spot where he had stood.

"This is the second time in two weeks that this has happened to me. Someone obviously wants to kill me," he deadpanned with typical Iraqi black humour.

Last Sunday, a series of co-ordinated car bomb attacks was unleashed near four churches in Baghdad and one in Mosul when the churches were packed with worshippers.

Fourteen people were killed and at least 60 were injured. By a stroke of luck, that day my cousin had gone to a nearby church in Baghdad that was not hit.

He heard the explosions though and saw all the ambulances, firemen and policemen swarming around the area. Many people he knows from the 700,000-strong Christian community sustained injuries from the attacks and from the shattered glass of the church windows.

He says that all Iraqis are upset about these attacks, especially his Muslim friends who called to express their condolences saying, "We are all Iraqis, we are brothers. We are ashamed, embarrassed and sad about these atrocities."

These attacks are meant to pit Muslims against Christians but instead seem to be uniting Iraqis. Mosques and Muslim holy places have been targeted by the terrorists already, but this is the first time in history that the Christian church has been attacked in Iraq.

Indeed, Iraq did not have a history of religiously motivated violence between Muslims and Christians until this occupation. The region's Christian communities are among the oldest in the world. When my father was growing up in Baghdad, he lived in mixed neighbourhoods, and religious differences were not at issue.

The Pope has called on the United Nations to intervene to create peace in the Middle East. I searched in vain for a comment from Messrs. Blair or Bush. According to news reports, The Syriac Catholic church of Our Lady of Salvation in Karrada was bombed from a Chevrolet that drove by.

The bomb blast blew out stained-glass windows, creating a carpet of coloured fragments outside. This church is where my grandmother, my great-grandmother and my great-aunt were buried. Their graves were disturbed by damage the church sustained in the Gulf war, and now they have been bombed directly. Is there no peace even for the dead?

It's even more terrifying to realize that no one knows who is responsible for the carnage. Iraqis say that it must be outsiders, because Iraqis would not attack other innocent Iraqis. But no one knows.

The Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has become a name to blame most of the attacks in Iraq on, but again, no one really knows for sure what is happening.

What I do know for sure is that I am watching Iraq being utterly destroyed day by day - and for what? Now Iraq is unsafe for Christians as well as everyone else.

Since the Gulf war, Iraqi Christians have been fleeing Iraq; the 700,000 that remain have become increasingly terrified for their lives. The American troops do not seem to be able to keep anyone safe. Indeed, they are not even in control of many parts of the country.

A recent article by Robert Fisk charged that the cities of Baquba, Samara, Kut, Mahmoudiya, Hilla, Fallujah, Ramadi, and parts of Baghdad all are outside government authority.

To Mr. Fisk, Iyad Allawi, the "Prime Minister," is little more than mayor of Baghdad. My conversations with relatives back this up: "There is no security," they say, and speak of explosions going off all the time, many of which are not reported by the international press.

It is intolerable to me that the foreign policy decisions of fervent Christians - as George Bush and Tony Blair claim to be - have resulted in such an atrocity against Christians.

The Christian response to violence is supposed to be to turn the other cheek. One wonders how different the world situation would have been if Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair had done just that.

Leilah Nadir is an Iraqi-Canadian writer who lives in Vancouver.

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August 2004

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