Iraq Christians fearful post-US pullout
KIRKUK IRAQ’S Christians, markedly fewer in number following attacks on their minority community, are increasingly fearful in the face of a rise in sectarian tensions after the withdrawal of US troops.
Estimated to number more than one million before the US-led invasion of 2003, living primarily in Baghdad, the main northern city of Mosul, and the disputed oil hub of Kirkuk, some two-thirds of the population are estimated to have fled since, with more continuing to leave the violence- wracked country.
Their plight was highlighted by an October 31, 2010, assault on a Baghdad church by Al Qaeda that left 44 worshippers, two priests and seven security force members dead. According to some accounts, the attack only accelerated the exodus.
“We have concerns about the US withdrawal, despite the security forces saying it will be safe,” said Louis Sako, Chaldean archbishop of Kirkuk and Sulaimaniyah, the latter of which lies in the autonomous Kurdish region.
“There has been a failure to ensure the safety of Christians — the security forces are not sufficiently prepared to ensure the protection of Christians. Even though we have repeatedly asked to raise the level of security, the results are not encouraging.” US troops completed their withdrawal on Sunday, leaving security in the hands of an Iraqi force more than 900,000-strong.
Officials insist it is able to maintain internal security, although they openly acknowledge it still lacks the means to defend Iraq’s borders, airspace and territorial waters.
That claim was dealt a blow on Thursday when more than a dozen bombings in Baghdad killed 60 people, with violence elsewhere in the country claiming another seven lives.
The attacks only served to raise sectarian tensions amid a worsening political dispute that has seen Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister seek to sack his Sunni Arab deputy, and authorities issue an arrest warrant for the Sunni vice president on charges he ran a death squad, accusations he denies.
“I am only staying in Kirkuk temporarily — I am waiting to leave at any second,” said Salvan Youhanna Matti, whose three sons have left Iraq.