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MRG strongly condemns attack on Christians in Baghdad church

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Minority Rights Group International (MRG) vigorously condemns the attack on Christians attending mass in a Catholic church in Baghdad on Sunday, and calls on the Iraqi government to fulfil its obligation under international law to provide effective protection for minorities.

‘The security situation for Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq has become critical,’ says Mark Lattimer, MRG’s Executive Director. ‘The safety of minorities must now become an urgent priority for the Iraqi Government, with security measures planned in full cooperation with community leaders.’

According to a BBC report around 100 people were celebrating mass in the Our Lady of Salvation church when it was attacked by gunmen, who proceeded to take worshippers hostage.

Security forces stormed the church in an attempt to free the hostages. At least 52 people were killed. The number of wounded is estimated at between 56 and 62, including a member of MRG partner organisation the Iraqi Minorities Organisation and his son.

He says they escaped death only ‘by a miracle’ and witnessed three priests being ‘brutally’ murdered by the gunmen.

A statement has since been posted on a militant website reportedly saying Iraqi Christians would be ‘exterminated’ if Muslim women in Egypt were not freed.
Religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq face unprecedented levels of violence. Many are forced to leave Iraq because they are specifically targeted for attack due to their religion and culture.

The violence on Sunday night at the church of Our Lady of Salvation may increase the flow of Christians seeking asylum elsewhere. Christians in Iraq numbered 1-1.4 million in 2003, and today around 600,000-800,000 remain.

‘Half of Iraq’s Christians have already fled the country since 2003,’ added Lattimer. ‘Unless their safety is assured, the remainder may be forced to follow.’

In a 2009 report, MRG said a disproportionate number of those fleeing Iraq – somewhere between 15-64 per cent, depending on the country of refuge – are minorities.

Iraqi Christians include Armenians and Chaldo-Assyrians, who belong to one of four churches: the Chaldean (Uniate), Jacobite or Syrian Orthodox, Nestorian, and the Syrian Catholic.

Since 2003, Chaldo-Assyrian churches, businesses and homes have been targeted. In February 2008, the Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul was abducted and killed. In April 2008, Assyrian Orthodox priest Father Adel Youssef was shot to death by unidentified militants in central Baghdad.

Armenians have faced the same targeting as other Christian groups. At least 45 Armenians have been killed, while another 32 people have been kidnapped for ransom, two of whom are still missing. Armenian churches in Iraq have also been targeted and bombed.

Christians are at particular risk because of their religious ties with the West and the fact that they were allowed to trade in alcohol in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, making them a target in an increasingly strict Islamic environment.

Notes to editors

For further information or to arrange interviews contact:

MRG Press Office – Emma Eastwood
T: +44 (0) 207 422 4205
M: +44 (0) 7989 699984
Contact the MRG Press Office

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