A Muslim leader is calling on the Iraqi government and US-led forces to step up their efforts to protect the Christian minority in Iraq from extinction.
Navaid Hamid, Secretary of the South Asian Council for Minorities (SACM) and a Muslim, said the deadly attack last weekend on a church in Baghdad was a heinous crime that should be strongly condemned by the international community.
“With the murderous attack, the safety of Iraq’s Christian minority has become critical and it is the prime responsibility not only of the regime in Baghdad but also that of the allied forces led by [the] US to restore confidence and provide safety because never in the history of Iraq, minorities were so vulnerable [sic],” he said.
Around 58 people are believed to have died when al-Qaida linked militants stormed the Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad and opened fire on the congregation.
Hamid said Christians in Iraq were “paying a high price” for their faith and living in fear because of the “unprecedented” levels of violence against them.
“It is a fact that they are on the verge of extinction in Iraq,” he said.
An estimated 400,000 Christians have left Iraq and sought asylum in the US and Europe because of the persecution they face in Iraq.
The biggest victims of the US-led invasion of Iraq, Hamid said, were its minorities.
“[They] have become easy target [sic] for terrorist attacks in their own country,” he said.
Earlier this week, Christian and Muslim leaders issued a joint statement condemning the attack on the church in Baghdad. Signatories of the letter included Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal of Jordan and representatives of the World Council of Churches.
They said the attack was an “inhumane” act that “contradicts all religious teachings and Middle Eastern culture that enabled people to coexist for many centuries”.
They called on the UN Security Council and Iraqi officials to put an end to terrorist attacks “aimed at degrading Iraqi people … and defiling Christian and Islamic sacred places.”
The Islamic State of Iraq, the group which claimed responsibility for the attack, has threatened to continue targeting Christians. It says it attacked the church in retaliation for the supposed detention of two women converts to Islam by the Coptic Church in Egypt.
According to the Associated Press, the Coptic Church’s head, Pope Shenouda III, said God had turned the attack to good by creating sympathy for his church.
Christians who turned up to St Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo for Wednesday’s service were made to pass through metal detectors before being allowed in.
Addressing the congregation, Shenouda said: “God either prevents evil or turns it to good. Affirming that everything turns to good, the message that reached us brought sympathy for us from the Noble Al-Azhar [a revered institution of higher learning in Egypt] and from many writers and journalists and the interior ministry and police.”
In Iraq, armed security guards have been placed outside some churches after last Sunday's attack.