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Iraq Christians Return To Former ‘Caliphate’

From the UK’s Telegraph:

As al-Qaeda’s grip eases, Christians flock home

Date: December 24 2007

Aqeel Hussein in Baghdad and Colin Freeman

IRAQI Christians who fled a district of Baghdad that declared itself an al-Qaeda caliphate have returned home to celebrate their first Christmas in two years.

Known as the “Vatican of Iraq”, the small but long-established Christian enclave in the mainly Sunni district of Doura suffered constant terror at the hands of al-Qaeda gunmen who tried to impose a Taliban-style rule.

Churches were car-bombed, women were threatened for not wearing Islamic headscarves, and families had to pay off local mosques to keep them safe from kidnap gangs.

But now al-Qaeda has been rooted out of Doura and the hundreds of Christian families who left the area are returning.

On Christmas Day they will congregate in the battle-scarred St Mary’s Church, where part of the crucifix on its tower is still missing after being shot at

Overlooking the River Tigris on Baghdad’s southern outskirts, Doura was home to 4000 followers of the Chaldean Catholic and Assyrian Orthodox churches. The neighbourhood has churches, monasteries and convents, and the Christian residents’ homes stand out because of their neat gardens.

Relations with their Muslim neighbours began to fray in late 2004 when al-Qaeda zealots joined forces with local Sunnis fighting the US occupation. Soon Doura became one of Baghdad’s most notorious al-Qaeda strongholds, with the movement designating it part of a new self-declared Sunni Islamic state of Iraq. The Christians were an easy target for the insurgent gangs’ fund-raising activities. Al-Qaeda-backed cells would frequently kidnap them for money, claiming the victims were “crusaders” or US allies.

By the middle of this year, half of the local Christians had left, part of a wider exodus that saw hundreds of thousands of Baghdad Christians head for Syria. Those who stayed in Doura had to pay monthly tithes of 15,000 dinars ($15) as “protection money” to Sunni mosques.

Nine months into the US troop build-up, though, local Sunnis have been persuaded to reject al-Qaeda’s influence. Last week, Sheik Samir al-Jibouri, a local Sunni cleric, visited Father Shamoon to give him his guarantee that his flock would be safe.

“He has also told us that we don’t have to pay protection money any more,” Father Shamoon said.

Major Kirk Luedeke, a US Army spokesman, confirmed Christian families were returning. “What is more important is that the Muslim tribal leaders are openly showing support for their Christian neighbours,” he said…

More good news for the holidays.

Churches were car-bombed, women were threatened for not wearing Islamic headscarves, and families had to pay off local mosques to keep them safe from kidnap gangs

Why didn’t we ever hear anything about this?

Still, it is good news.

This article was posted by Steve on Monday, December 24th, 2007. Comments are currently closed.

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