Christian Iraqis mourn lives lost in Iraq church bombings
By Lori Arnold
Sept 2 2004


EL CAJON, Calif. -- After years of brutal unrest in their homeland,
the Christian Chaldean population was rocked again Aug. 1 when 11
Iraqi citizens were killed during five orchestrated attacks on
Christian churches in Mosul and Baghdad. Dozens were wounded.

In response, nearly 100 people attended a memorial meeting Aug. 4 at
the Chaldean American Association center, north of the city's
downtown. El Cajon, Calif. is home to the second largest Chaldean
community in the nation, behind Detroit.

The observance opened with prayers recited by a visiting priest and
several deacons. The acapella chants of mourning, offered in the
Chaldean language, eventually gave rise to impassioned condemnations
of the civilian attacks.

"The land is now filled with terrorists, criminals, guns and havoc,"
interpreter Sami Banarji quoted Hanna Qalabat as saying.

"The land where law was first established has become a land of

Qalabat, who asked for mercy for the "martyrs who died in the
churches," said despite the bloodshed, their resolve for a free Iraq
should remain strong.

"We've got to continue to fight these gangsters, no matter what
happens," he said.

A few minutes into the event, with the arrival of several contingents
of Muslims--there to show solidarity through their own calls for
peace--the conversation switched to Arabic.

Alan Zangana, program director for Kurdish Human Rights Watch, said
that any attack on a place of worship is condemned by all.

"The ones that executed these people, they say they are Muslims, but
the Muslims disown them," he said.

In a news release issued there, Zangana said that his group "condemns
any evil act committed toward innocent civilians. Citizens of Iraq
view Chaldeans, Assyrians and Armenians as brothers and sisters and
respect one another's worship places and these criminal acts are not
accepted by all Iraqis from all different faiths."

The perpetrators of such attacks, he said, should be "punished and
brought to justice."

A call for unity
Sheikh Saeed, from Al-Madina Al-Munawara Mosque in El Cajon, offered
his own prayers of peace for the dead and recuperation for the

"The Iraqi people are all united, regardless of ethnicity or
religion," he said. "We are only one family. There is no animosity,
no hostility. All parties are trying to live in peace, but these
criminals are trying to divide that unity."

His statement also contained a stern warning for the terrorists.

"The more you execute these activities the more we're going to stand
united," he said, challenging the terrorists to cite the passage in
the Koran that commands use such measures.

"Where were you criminals when Saddam Hussein was killing or
terrorizing the people?"

Fears fulfilled
The church bombings underscored fears long held by Iraqi Christians,
whose numbers are estimated at 750,000. With the country's new
government still in its infancy, missionary and evangelism groups are
keeping a careful eye on the situation.

Many Christians, Open Doors officials said, are feeling increased
persecution from Muslims who view Christians as American

Even before the church bombings, Christian businesses were being
targeted for attacks, including liquor stores and fashion and beauty

As a result, Open Doors USA has ceased all training sessions
scheduled in that country, although materials targeting teens and
children are still being supplied. A new education center is to help
church leaders get together, while offering English and computer
classes. A mobile medical clinic is also being organized in one
extremely dangerous Iraqi city.

In the days before the change of power, Open Doors issued an alert
asking Western Christians to pray for a peaceful transition.

"Pray for the violence to come to an end and that the transition of
power will be smooth," said Dr. Carl Moeller, president of Open Doors
USA. "Pray that Iraqi Christians and other Christians working and
serving in Iraq will be kept safe. And pray that Christians will be
allowed to worship our Lord in freedom as a new government is formed
later this year."

Fleeing Iraq
Still, many Iraqi Christians, fearful of imminent attacks and uneasy
about the government's ability to protect them, have fled to
neighboring Jordan and Syria.

Wissam Sagman, an Iraqi Christian living in his native country, told
reporters that he had already attempted unsuccessfully to leave the
country, fearing his family would not be safe. The attacks confirmed
his fears, he said standing in his living room, wrecked from a car
bomb attack on an Armenian church across the street.

"These people, they love blood. They hate humanity. They hate us,"
Sagman told Associated Press. "They want all the Christians to

Sagman said he will continue his quest to leave the country.

"I feel despair now," he said. "Only despair."

Looking forward
Despite the fear and unrest in the Middle East, Dr. Labib Sultan, of
the locally based Organization for Civil Society in Iraq, speaking at
the El Cajon memorial event, stressed his longing for a peaceful

"We hope that we have a good solid future tomorrow for Iraq to build
new rights, the rights and the freedom to work, the freedom of
prayer, the freedom of speech. We have been dependent on all these
rights for years and years," Sultan said, according to the

"The same guns that attacked the Christians, attacked the Muslims and
they attacked the Kurds up north and Muslims in the south. They claim
they are Muslims. They are followers of Saddam. The only thing is the
time and place is different."

While much of the local discussion focused on verbal condemnation,
one speaker encouraged action. Words alone, Saleem Ibrahim of the
American Middle-Easter Christian Association said, will not bring
lasting peace.

"Be ambassadors of peace," he said. "When things are tough, things
get solved. So the time is right for things to be solved. Do positive
actions, it's not enough to just come and talk. Terrorism will not go
away unless we plan and think and educate people."

For Banarji, the translator, he said the presence of Muslims at the
meeting was a sign of hope.

"They said condolences and condemned the whole thing," Banarji said.