Iraq: The fear of massacre

|PIC1|Up to 20 Christians have been killed in just 10 days as fears of an impending massacre grip the Iraqi city of Mosul.

Latest reports received by Aid to the Church in Need, the charity for persecuted and other suffering Christians, indicate an increasing state of alarm with Christians now being shot dead at an average rate of two a day as Islamic militants assert their authority over the city.

The latest victim in a killing spree which has claimed the lives of at least 15 Christians is 38-year-old Jalal Moussa, who reports state was shot dead outside his home on Wednesday.

Sources close to the scene report that another two Christians may also have been killed in the incident in Mosul's Noor district.

Preparations are underway to help Christians fleeing the city with emergency food, medicine and shelter which is being stockpiled in neighbouring villages including the Christian town of Qaraqosh where security is much better.

Speaking from Erbil, in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq, Father Bashar Warda, from the Chaldean Catholic Church, told ACN: "We are afraid that that what is happening in Mosul will develop into a massacre."

Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk, who has nominal oversight over Mosul after the death of Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho who was kidnapped in February 2008, added: "I am very worried. The situation is now critical."

The archbishop has sent a message pleading with the fanatics to stop the violence.

Church authorities have since heard that security is to be stepped up to protect Christians but Fr Warda dismissed the move as "too little, too late".

The priest, who is rector of St Peter's Seminary, in Erbil, northern Iraq, described how militants in Mosul were going from house to house with letters warning Christians to leave or face being shot.

Other sources describe extremists driving round Mosul shouting slogans against Christians, threatening more violence.

Fr Warda told ACN that in the past few days the bosses of utility and financial services in Mosul have advised Christian employees to stop work and leave after receiving threats of violence from militants hell-bent on ridding the city of non-Muslims.

The violence is centred in the Mosul districts of Al Souker and Al Taheer and fears are growing that the atrocities will spread to the rest of the city.

Church leaders told ACN they neither knew who was responsible for the violence or why it should have suddenly escalated.

But many link it to the growing confidence of militant extremists who are now asserting their authority over Mosul and irritation among fanatics at a Christian-led fight-back against plans to drop the so-called Article 50 guaranteeing minority groups seats in provincial parliaments.

The outbreak of full-scale persecution against Christians in Mosul can be traced back to the immediate aftermath of Saddam Hussein's fall from power and a sudden surge in militant activity in a region where extremism has always been strong.

The Christian population in Mosul has plummeted, falling from about 25,000 in 2003/4 to 5,000 today, raising fears of the extinction of a once large and ancient Church dating back centuries.

As a charity for persecuted and other suffering Christians, Aid to the Church in Need has offered emergency assistance for thousands of Iraqi Christian refugees as well as displaced people seeking sanctuary in the north of the country and the Nineveh plain around Mosul.