Christians across Iraq began a three-day fast Sunday to focus attention inside and outside the church on targeted killings of Christians in Mosul, Iraq's third largest city and, as capital of Nineveh province, one of the ancient centers of Christianity in Iraq.
"These are like the days people of Nineveh fasted at the time of Jonah," a pastor in Kirkuk told WORLD. Mosul church leaders report at least 25 and perhaps as many as 40 such deaths in the last week, he said. The killings highlight resurgent violence against the church in the north-central plains of Iraq as well as across the country at a time when security overall is improving. Two suicide car bombers also struck Mosul on Sunday, killing at least six people and wounding dozens of others, U.S. and Iraqi officials said.
"This has not been a good week for Christians in Iraq," said Andrew White, the Anglican leader of St. George's church in Baghdad. White met last week with Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, to request additional U.S. assistance for Mosul, once a city of 2 million, where violence has spiked over the last month-and appears to be largely aimed at the city's Christianity minority.
His call was echoed by local officials: Mosul's provincial governor, Duraid Kashmoula, told reporters Sunday that nearly 1,000 Christian families-approximately 3,000 people-have fled their homes in Mosul in recent weeks following the worst violence against them in five years. Some are taking refuge in the more remote villages of Nineveh Plain while others are crossing the border into Syria or Turkey, and are less likely to return. Mosul residents told WORLD that Christian women must now wear hijab, the Muslim head covering, when outside, and none of the city's churches are currently holding services. Chaldean church leader Louis Sako said, "We are the target of a campaign of liquidation, a campaign of violence. The objective is political."
WORLD met with Kashmoula in Mosul late last month, and the Muslim leader pledged to protect churches targeted during this upsurge of violence, but he complained that Iraqi Army units in Mosul lack the explosive detectors and other equipment now prevalent in Baghdad. "They have U.S. support, but it is not enough," he said.
Iraq's parliament last month passed a provincial election law that shelved a provision for protecting minority rights. It would have designated provincial council seats for Christians, Yezidis, and other groups. Many feared that its removal from the law would eliminate protection for minority groups and-without stepped-up security to combat the new violence-remnant al-Qaeda in Mosul appear to be making that fear a reality.
Read Mindy Belz's "After the bloodbath" from the latest issue of WORLD.
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