15,000 Iraqi Christians Driven Out of Mosul

More than 15,000 Iraqi Christians, or 2,500 families, have been driven out of Mosul over the past two weeks, officials said.

The number skyrocketed from last week's estimate of some 3,000 Christians that fled the northern Iraq city, which is said to be the last urban stronghold of Al-Qaeda.

Officials in Mosul also reported that some 13 Iraqi Christians have been killed in the past four weeks and at least three Assyrian Christian homes were bombed on Saturday alone, according to the Assyrian International News Agency.

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It is still unclear who is behind the anti-Christian campaign, although some believe the militants are Al-Qaeda affiliated. But a spokesman for Iraq's interior ministry said Wednesday that there is no evidence to support the link to the infamous terrorist group.

Another Iraqi member of parliament has accused the Kurds of organizing the campaign to shift the demographic balance of Mosul in their favor, according to AINA.

A spokesman for Iraq's defense ministry said on Friday that police have arrested six men suspected of carrying out the attacks on Assyrian Christians in Mosul. Four of the suspects are residents of the Kurdish region and are affiliated with the Kurdistan Democratic Party in northern Iraq, according to AINA.

But regardless of what group is responsible for the violence, the World Council of Churches and Washington-based International Christian Concern have called for a stop to the persecution of Christians, which has led to the mass exodus from Mosul.

WCC called on the United Nations and the Iraqi government "to quell the violence" and urged member churches and partners worldwide to "pray for peace and reconciliation" in the country.

"We have heard that people are being killed, houses bombed, thousands are fleeing their homes, and churches and church properties are being destroyed," WCC general secretary the Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia wrote in a letter to the churches in Iraq. He also expressed "anguish and great concern" about the "terrible acts of violence in Mosul during the past week."

But Kobia encouraged Iraqi Christians, in so far as it is possible, to remain in their country and to "bear witness there."

"Your presence in the land is an assurance that Christianity continues to endure; you are a sign of hope to people of faith everywhere," Kobia wrote.

Others who have condemned the violence targeted at Christians in Iraq include the Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Bakir al-Nassiri of Iraq, who said aid should be given to the Christians fleeing Mosul and the Iraq government should do all that is necessary to protect them.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) in a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice dated Friday, Oct. 17, asked her for a briefing on the situation of the Christian community in Mosul and what the State Department is doing to ensure the Iraqi government is protecting Iraqi Christians and other religious minorities.

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