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03 May 2007

Iraq: Christians face mounting threats, MP says

medium_1111.jpg(adnki.com)  Christians in Iraqi are facing a mounting number of threats forcing them into exile...

 Christians in Iraqi are facing a mounting number of threats forcing them into exile, a Christian parliamentarian in Iraq's Kurdistan region says. "Thousands of Christian families are being told to leave the country or convert to Islam or pay the jizyah (a tax traditionally imposed on non-Muslim men in Islamic states)," the parliamentarian, Romeo Hakkari told Adnkronos International (AKI). An ethnic Assyrian of the Chaldean Church - a Roman Catholic oriental rite denomination - Hakkari heads the House of the Two Rivers Democratic Party, which promotes the rights of Assyrian-Chaldeans.

According to Hakkari, many Christians living in Mosul and Baghdad have fled those cities and sought refuge either in remote parts of Iraqi Kurdistan or abroad after receiving threats from Islamists.

He cited the example of pamphlets, purportedly distributed by the al-Qaeda-linked "Islamic State of Iraq" group that threatened to kill Christians if they did not abandon the city.

The Muslim extremists have also tried to revive the jizyah practice, which forced non-Muslism people "of the Book" (Christians and Jews) to buy protection from the authorities by paying the tax.

"Since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime Christians in Iraq, and in particular Baghdad have faced persecution for the first time in the history of this country," Hakkari told AKI.

"Hundreds of Christians have been abducted and murdered and their churches have been destroyed as part of a detailed plan implemented by Muslim extremists," he said.

Hakkari has appealed to all moderate political groups in Iraq to "work together to defeat the terrorists and ensure that all Iraqis live in harmony as they have done for centuries."

Iraq's Christian community was estimated to number nearly half a million or about 5 percent of the country’s population on the eve of the 2003 US-led war that toppled Saddam.

Thousands of Iraqi Christians who comprise a variety of churches - Assyrian Orthodox and Assyrian Catholic; Syrian Orthodox and Syrian Catholic; Armenian Orthodox and Armenian Catholic; Greek Orthodox, Latin Catholic, and Protestant denominations - have since fled the strife-torn country

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