Violence Escalates in Iraq Ahead of Elections

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Adrienne S. Gaines

Political tensions ahead of parliamentary elections in Iraq on Sunday have left at least eight Chaldean Christians dead in the last three
weeks and hundreds of families fleeing Mosul.

“The concern of
Christians in Mosul is growing in the face of what is happening in the city,”
said Chaldean Archbishop of Kirkuk Louis Sako. “The tension and struggle between
political forces is creating an atmosphere of chaos and congestion. Christians
are victims of political tension between political groups, but maybe also by
fundamentalist sectarian cleansing.”


On Feb. 23 the
killing of Eshoee Marokee, a Christian, and his two sons in their home in front
of other family members sent shock waves across the Christian community. The
murder took place amid a string of murders that triggered the mass exodus of
families to the surrounding towns and provinces.

“It is not the
first time Christians are attacked or killed,” said the archbishop of the Syrian
Catholic Church in Mosul, Georges Casmoussa. “The new [element] in this question
is to be killed in their own homes.”

The capital of
Nineveh Province some 250 miles northwest of Baghdad, Mosul has
been known as the most dangerous city for Christians. At least 275
Assyrian Christians have been murdered by Islamic insurgents since 2003,
according to a
report prepared by the International
Committee for The Rights of Indigenous Mesopotamians.

While in 2009
the organization listed 16 deaths, since January there have been at least 13
murders, eight of which took place the second half of February.

The movement of
internally displaced persons to surrounding areas started in mid-February and
tripled between Feb. 24 and Feb. 27 to about 683 families, according to the
United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Although the
rate of displacement into areas around Mosul has slowed, the report estimates
that 720 families had fled the city as of March 1. This represents about 4,320

Students Affected

The murders have
not only driven families away from the cities but have also kept students away
from university. Three of the Christians killed in February were university
students. As a result, around 2,000 Christian students are staying away from
their classes until the tension in Mosul eases.

“We believe that
the attack against these students was somehow related to the political situation
in Mosul,” said General Secretary of the Chaldo-Assyrian Student and Youth Union
Kaldo Oghanna. “This has affected our people in Mosul badly, and they have left
the university.”

Oghanna said
that the union has proposed that the Ministry of Education open a new university
in a safer area of the Nineveh plains for the nearly 3,000 Christian
undergraduate students and 250 graduate students studying in Mosul. He also said
that they have appealed to the university’s administration to make necessary
exceptions for the Christian students who have not attended classes in the last
few weeks.

Although some
local Christian leaders say they expect the tension to ease after Sunday,
security may not improve as the Christian community is caught in political
tensions between Arabs and Kurds vying for control of the province. Archbishop
Casmoussa said regardless of who is behind the murders, the Christian community
demands justice.

“We urge the
Central and Regional Government to pursue the murders and their masters and
judge them according to Iraqi laws, even if they are supported by religious or
political parties,” Casmoussa said. “Enough is enough. Are we to pay the price
of political struggles or ambitions?”

Sako said that
in other cities security has improved, and that Christians are eager to cast
their votes.

The election on
March 7 will decide the 325 members of the Council of Representatives of
, who will then elect the prime minister and president of Iraq.
Of these seats, five are reserved for the nation’s Christian minority, estimated
at around 600,000. Most of them live in the Nineveh plain.

At the beginning
of the Iraq war, there were about 1.2 million Christians living in Iraq. Iraq’s
population is roughly 30 million.

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