Iraqi Christians want more than 'good words' from government on safety

Iraqi Christians are frustrated with the Iraqi government’s inability to protect them, the head of a ministry that supports persecuted Christians has said.

Christians in Iraq feel that “it’s just words from the government that 'we are going to protect you',” Carl Moeller, president of Open Doors USA, told The Christian Post.

One Iraqi Christian leader complained to Compass Direct News about the government’s promises of security.

“At the funeral there was the Shiite leader, the official spokesperson of the government ministers,” said Bishop Georges Casmoussa of Iraq. “All the discussion was flippant – ‘We are with you, we are all suffering,’ etcetera, but we have demanded a serious investigation. We can’t count on good words anymore. It’s all air. We’ve heard enough.”

Sunday’s attack on the Catholic church in downtown Baghdad, which killed 58 people, was the deadliest against Iraqi Christians since Islamic extremists began targetting them in 2003.

The Islamic State of Iraq, the group that claimed responsibility for the murders at the Catholic church, threatened to continue the bloodshed against Christians in a statement posted on Tuesday on militant websites.

According to The Associated Press, the insurgent group said, “We will open upon them the doors of destruction and rivers of blood.

"All Christian centres, organisations and institutions, leaders and followers are legitimate targets for the muhajedeen (holy warriors) wherever they can reach them.”

The threat came two days after the al-Qaida-linked group stormed into a church during Sunday mass and rounded up hostages before opening fire on the congregation. The dead included two priests.

The ISI had given Egypt’s Coptic Church 48 hours to release two women that it claimed had converted to Islam. The insurgent group said the deadline had passed and now Christians would be attacked wherever they can be reached. The group also demanded the release of al-Qaeda-connected prisoners in Iraq.

Egypt has refused to respond to the insurgent group’s demand. The foreign ministry released a statement Monday saying that Egypt "categorically rejects having its name or affairs pushed into such criminal acts” and that it “strongly condemned” the attack on the Baghdad church.

Camilia Shehata and Wafa Constantine are the two women that ISI demanded. Both women are married to Coptic priests and briefly ran away from home after a dispute with their husbands. Muslims in Egypt have circulated news that they had converted to Islam and want to divorce their husbands. But at least one woman publicly released a statement before the attack saying she had not converted and that she wished to be left alone to resolve her family problems.

Moeller said one of the things he would ask US citizens to do is contact US government officials to press the Iraqi government to account for security.

“The Christians are just one community that is impacted by this but they are the most vulnerable community,” said Moeller.

Open Doors is helping Iraqi Christians affected by the murder by providing grief counselling in Baghdad and relief supplies.

“We are asking people to pray for the Christians,” said the Open Doors head. “We don’t put that second because it is more important for us to remember our brother and sisters in prayer so that God can intervene on their behalf.”

There are nearly 600,000 Christians in Iraq, down from about 1.2 million before the US-led invasion in 2003.