Members of two Christian families were killed Tuesday in the northern Iraq city of Mosul. At least 14 Christians apparently have been targeted and murdered in the past week in the city, once the seat of Iraq's Christian and Jewish community and-at over 2.5 million-Iraq's third largest city.
The killings come on the eve of Iraq's national parliamentary elections scheduled for March 7. Nineveh Province, at present considered the most volatile region in the country, is divided among Sunni, Kurd, and minority political elements. Many see the area's Christian community as torn in its allegiances among Sunni Arab, Kurdish, and a few Christian candidates for parliament-and therefore subject to intimidation by violent militants.
On Tuesday, attackers drove by the home of one Christian family in Mosul, firing shots at the dwelling. Later the gunmen returned, forced themselves into the house, and gunned down the entire family. An Iraqi who reported the incident to the U.S.-based monitoring group Open Doors said five or six family members were in the home at the time of the shootings. "They even threw two bodies outside the house as a cruel warning for others," the Iraqi said.
On the same day, the father and two brothers of an Assyrian Catholic priest were murdered in their home, as well. The Iraqi, who asked not to be identified for security reasons, said the three family members of Mazin Ishoo, the priest who has been living with his parents, also were gunned down by militants entering their home. The family, according to the Iraqi source, had chosen to remain in Mosul: "They were determined to stay and serve the community."
Thousands of Iraqi Christians have left the area after years of threats and targeted killings. Ten years ago more than 100,000 Christians lived in Mosul. With the destabilization brought on by the U.S. invasion, the subsequent political turmoil, and rise of Islamic militant groups, the Christian population is down to about 150 to 300 families.
"The Christian community at large is relatively uninformed about this," said Carl Moeller, president of California-based Open Doors. "It is a commonplace occurrence in Iraq, sadly, yet largely unnoticed by American Christians."
Last week four other Christians were killed, including two students named Zaya Toma and Ramsen Shamael, and Mosul residents Najem Fatoohy and Rayan Salem. On Feb. 20 the body of another Christian, Adnan Aldhan, was found in front of the gate of another Christian family's home.
U.S. forces remain at an airbase outside Mosul, but under the current U.S.-Iraq security agreement will not confront local violence unless they are asked to intervene by Iraqi forces.
Is there more the United States could do? Said Moeller, who spoke to me by phone from his Irvine, Calif., office but has traveled to northern Iraq and spent this past Christmas in Jordan with Iraqi refugees: "The question is being answered on the ground as 'no.' Our intention to leave Iraq is overriding our better nature. We are tired of war and have announced our intent to leave this year. But, unfortunately, that will mean for Iraqi Christians utter devastation."