Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Christians fleeing Iraq after death threats


By Damien McElroy, Foreign Affairs Correspondent Daily Telegraph
Iraq's Christian community is close to extinction as thousands are forced to flee their traditional strongholds in Baghdad.An exodus of Christians is under way in the southern district of Dora after groups affiliated to al-Qa'eda issued a threat of "convert or be killed".
Most have fled to Kurdish northern Iraq, where the village of Ankawa has grown into an overcrowded "city of Christ", while others leave for Syria or Jordan.
Priests claim that half Baghdad's pre-2003 Christian population - estimated in the hundreds of thousands - has fled or been killed. They also claim that the Iraqi government is failing to protect them.
Father Bashar Warda of the St Peter Major Seminary, relocated from Dora to Ankawa, said yesterday: "We are afraid the government of Iraq has a common understanding with those making the threats that Christians have no future in this country."
Fr Warda said one priest had registered 70 displaced families in the past 10 days.
Father Raymond Moussalli, a spokesman for the Christian refugees, said Dora's seven churches had closed.
"We cannot hold on," he said. "The Muslims have issued warnings 'convert or you will be killed'. Heads have been cut off statues outside our churches. People are being killed just for their faith."

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