Saturday, December 10, 2011

First attacks on Christian 'safe haven' in Kurdish north

Attacks on Christian businesses in the Kurdish north of Iraq have caused deep concern among local Assyrian Christians for whom the region has been a safe haven.

Riots broke out on Friday in the northern town of Zakho in Dohuk province in the semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan – after a Muslim mullah spoke out about the sale of alcohol. Reuters news agency reports that gangs set fire to more than 30 shops and bars and damaged three hotels, most of which are Christian-owned businesses.

Later on Friday, rioters tried to attack Christian quarters of Zakho, but the authorities intervened to protect these neighbourhoods. Further violence erupted the following day in the provincial capital, Dohuk, where groups attacked shops and a cultural club in two Christian areas. On Monday, minor incidents of similar violence were reported near the Kurdish capital, Erbil, and in Sulaymaniyah.

Local sources alleged that the attacks in Zakho had been organised by a pro-Islamic political party.

Canon Andrew White, the vicar of St George's Church in Baghdad and President of the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East, told Release: 'We had placed so much hope on the fact that there was one place in Iraq where Christians could find security and a future. That place was Dohuk.

'Sadly, with the violence in the last few days, this hope has now gone. People are petrified and are saying, 'What happens to us now?' Will we stand with them and support them in this great difficulty? Faith shines a light into the darkness, hope into despair, gives a future where there is no future.'

Since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, thousands of Iraqi Christians have fled north to areas such as Kurdistan, which became largely autonomous in 1991.

For more news and a country profile about Iraq, click here

(Sources: Compass Direct, Reuters)

• Pray for peace and religious tolerance to be restored in Iraqi Kurdistan.
• Pray that this latest violence will prompt Christians in Iraq to draw even closer to God rather than be tempted to leave their homeland. Ask God to
bless the peace-building ministries of Canon Andrew White and the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East.



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