05/18/2007, 00.00
IRAQ
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‘Islamic’ prince collects taxes in Baghdad’s Christian neighbourhood

The ‘Islamic State in Iraq” appoints imam Hatym al-Rizeq as head of the al-Dora neighbourhood. From a local mosque he is asking Christians to pay 250,000 dinars in protection money. Only in the last week 14 more families have fled the area. In the meantime, a powerless government remains silent.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) – The ‘Islamic State in Iraq” has appointed its ‘prince’ in al-Dora, a historically Christian neighbourhood in Baghdad. The man, named Hatym Al Rizeq, can now rule an area that has been largely abandoned by its Christian residents, the Arabic language website Ankawa reported. However, this has not stopped  the ‘prince’ from using a local mosque, al-Noor (the light) Masjid, to demand Christians begin paying the infamous Jizya or protection tax.

Set up in early 2006, the Islamic State in Iraq brought together al-Qaeda and six affiliated organisations. Since then it has engaged in an open campaign of persecution against the Christians of al-Dora.

The few Christian families still in the neighbourhood are left with few choices: convert to Islam, pay the protection tax, escape or die. Just in the last week another 14 families chose to flee the area.

Imam Hatym al-Rizeq has demanded Christians pay 250,000 dinars (around US$ 200) for the right to remain in their own homes, a sum equivalent to a month needs for a family of six in the capital.

As more and more people flee Baghdad every day for the north, their stories bear witness to a broadening action by armed groups to cleanse the city of its Christian residents. With the work almost done in al-Dora, where most of the anti-Christian violence has taken place, they are now said to be moving into two western neighbourhoods: al-Baya’a and al-Thurat.

Local residents complain about the government’s “indifference and deafening silence,” a government that in many places like al-Dora is absent and powerless.

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