Published: 15:00 GMT Standard Time - Monday 19 December 2011
Christian couple killed in Iraq as US troops withdraw from country
Country/Region: Middle East and North Africa, Iraq
A young Christian couple have been killed and a Christian man kidnapped in Iraq, heightening fears about the increasing threat to the Christian community now US troops have left the country.
The US military operation
in Iraq is now over
Adnan Elia Jakmakji (34) and his wife Raghad al Tawil (25) were shot dead in their car last Tuesday (13 December). Their two sons were wounded as gunmen sprayed the vehicle with bullets. The family was ambushed in Mosul, northern Iraq, by an armed group.
The previous day, Sermat Patros, a 29-year-old Christian man, was kidnapped from his family’s home furnishings store in Ankawa in the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan. He was held for three days, during which his captors demanded a $500,000 ransom. Sermat, who was blindfolded and tied down during his ordeal, was rescued by a SWAT team on Thursday morning (15 December) to the great relief of his 21-year-old wife Amal and the local Christian community.
The kidnapping follows an outbreak of anti-Christian violence in Zakho, Kurdistan, earlier this month. Shops and businesses belonging to Christians were torched by Islamists on 2 December; the owners were later threatened with death if they re-opened the premises.
Thousands of Iraqi Christians have moved to Kurdistan to escape anti-Christian violence in other parts of the country; this region is increasingly looking less of a safe haven for them.
Fears over US troops exit
Since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, scores of Christians have been killed and more than 50 churches bombed in anti-Christian attacks. Hundreds of thousands of Christians have fled their homes, either to the more stable north or to neighbouring countries such as Syria and Jordan.
Many Iraqi Christians and other minority groups fear that the withdrawal of US troops, which was completed on Sunday (18 December), could cause further instability and violence in the country, making them even more vulnerable.
Some observers expect that Iranian influence will increase following the US exit; this could further aggravate ethnic and religious divisions.
A 26-year-old Christian who lives in Kurdistan said:
Whether it’s Sunni-Shia, Kurdish-Arab, or Muslim-Christian, the troubles will escalate. There is no real future for us in Iraq.
“Christmas in secret”
In addition to the security concerns surrounding the withdrawal of US troops, the Christmas season often brings an increase in anti-Christian violence in Iraq. Consequently, celebrations will be very low key.
A senior church leader in Kirkuk said:
The Christians of Mosul and Baghdad will once again celebrate Christmas in secret this year, and they fear that at any moment the armed groups will break into their homes and shoot them for no apparent reason.
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