01/18/2005, 00.00
iraq - vatican
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Mossul, Christians under fire, but there is no war of religions (Overview)

Mossul (AsiaNews) – Mossul's Christian community is not new to terrorist attacks.  Last December 7, two Catholic churches were set ablaze by bomb explosions: one church was of Armenian rite, the other a Chaldean church attached to the bishop's residence, one of the most beautiful examples of Chaldean architecture.

Last December 20, there were 3 other attacks against as many churches of the diocese.  Monsignor Rahho, Chaldean Bishop of Mossul, had confirmed to AsiaNews that the Syrian Catholic bishop's residence of St. Mary Afram, the Syrian Catholic church of al-Bashara and the the Chaldean bishop's residence at al-Tahira had been hit.  For the Chaldean bishop's residence, it had been the second attack in a month.

Mossul's Christian community, which consists of some 100,000 people, is very lively and has always enjoyed very good relations with the Muslim community.

In past months though there has been a clear growth in fundamentalism, including a continuing increase in threats and violence aimed at forcing Islamization on female, Christian students.

At the beginning of Ramadan last October, a leaflet started appearing at Mossul's university promising "death to all Iraqi women who did not cover their heads".  It was signed by a shadowy group calling itself the "mujahidin parliament", which groups together 6 armed fundamentalist groups.  The leaflet warned women against wearing make-up and Western-style clothes.  "We will follow transgressors to their homes," it said, "and will not hesitate to strike."

A few days later, two young women were attacked for not wearing a head cover in a Mossul market.  A syringe containing nitric acid was sprayed onto their faces.

A process of islamization of ways, similar to that imposed by the Taleban in Afghanistan or Khomeini's pasdaran in Iran, is targeting mainly university students.  Young Christian women are especially singled out.

In an interview with AsiaNews, Father Joseph, a priest in Mossul, explained that anti-Christian sentiment  stems from the fact that although Christians are just "3% of the population, they represent about 40% of the professional class: university professors, doctors, engineers.  By striking them, the terrorists are striking the country's culture and economy in order to weaken it and thus more easily subjugate it."

Father Joseph adds however that even though "violent acts against Christians are on the rise, they do not constitute persecution or a religious war". Violence is largely caused by armed gangs. "Two or three people with guns can spread fear in a whole neighbourhood", he said. Some of these gangs are made up of people belonging to the so-called resistance; its goal is to punish the occupation forces and its "collaborators". Others are Islamic fundamentalists who want to impose their version of Islam. Finally, there are the thugs and common criminals who were freed just before the fall of Saddam's regime.

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