This week gunmen overran a Christian church in the Karrada neighborhood of Baghdad during Sunday services, instantly murdering a priest and an acolyte. In the hostage siege that ensued, more than 50 people were killed and dozens were wounded when attackers sprayed bullets and set off suicide vests. The Al Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq took responsibility and released a statement warning of more attacks to come against Christians.
During the rule of Saddam Hussein, there were an estimated 1.4 million Christians living in Iraq -- many of them Chaldean-Assyrians and Armenians, but also a smaller number of Roman Catholics.
Two-thirds of Iraq's Christians have left the country since 2003, according to some estimates -- leaving fewer than 450,000 Iraqi Christians there today. Tragically, more Iraqi Christians may now join the exodus as a result of Sunday’s massacre. They know that without a government to enforce law and order and with the Americans on the way out, there will probably be more attacks.
Al Qaeda militants want the exodus to continue. Al Qaeda in Iraq has declared war on half a million Iraqi Christians because two Egyptian women, who supposedly converted from Coptic Christianity to Islam, are rumored to be held prisoner by Coptic monks somewhere in Egypt. Al Qaeda in Iraq posted an internet statement saying "the killing sword will not be lifted" from the necks of Christians, in Iraq and across the region.
The speaker said his group will go after "your children" in Syria, Lebanon and Egypt, adding there are hundreds of thousands of Christians and hundreds of churches on Islamic soil. He said they will be targeted if Christians do not submit to his group's demands.
Leaders of the Coptic Church deny the women are being held anywhere, calling the assertion "an illusion in the minds of sick people.” Even if this story about the Coptic monks is true, it is utterly mind boggling why Iraqi Christians are held responsible for something done in Egypt? However, there has not been any logic behind all the death and destruction that have become a part of Iraqi daily lives.
Two days after the Sunday massacre, more than 70 people were killed and 250 wounded as sixteen car bombs and roadside bombs detonated across the city on Tuesday. The coordinated bombings seemed designed to demonstrate that Al Qaeda in Iraq and other insurgent groups still have a significant presence in the capital.
"For the last four months we have seen attacks around Baghdad, but now they are inside (the city)," Mohamed al-Rubeiy, a Baghdad provincial council member for Karrada was quoted saying by the Associated Press. "Karrada is the center of Baghdad and Baghdad is the center of the government. That means the terrorists are sending a message to the world: 'We are back and we are here'."
Religious leaders from around the world condemned the attacks, including Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali al-Husayni al-Sistani.
Condemnation, however, is not enough. Iraqi leaders and security forces must do more to protect a Christian population whose roots in the country reach back in history. Moreover Iraq's current security and political dysfunction could prove a liability to the entire region, becoming a deadly breeding ground for terrorist groups with global aspirations.