Fearful Christians think of fleeing

By Denis D. Gray

Associated Press

TAL KAEEF, Iraq — Young Christian women in tight jeans mingle easily with Arab matrons draped in black, head-to-toe robes. Both church spires and mosque minarets rise above the low-slung houses. Violence is rare.

"The people here look out for each other — Arabs, Christians, Kurds, Yazidis. If all of Iraq was like this, it would be a great place," said 1st Lt. Jeremy Glosson, leading a U.S. Army patrol through Tal Kaeef’s medieval-like alleys.

And yet, many Christians here say they want to flee a town where their ancestors have lived for generations and, if possible, to abandon a country where their religion has survived for some 2,000 years — longer than in Europe — but one they fear is growing ever more violent.


"Nobody is threatening us, but it’s still dangerous. All the Christians want to leave. I want to leave now," said Robert Esho, a 35-year-old resident, reflecting a national community on nerve-edge, where even small-scaled incidents can spark panic.

Last month, in the nearby northern city of Mosul, about 10,000 Christians by government estimate bolted from their homes after several killings and intimidating incidents, generally believed to have been carried out by Islamic militants.

Most recently, their fears were heightened when gunmen attacked the home of a Christian family in Mosul, killing two sisters and wounding their mother. The attackers booby-trapped the house and an Iraqi policeman was injured when he came to investigate, U.S. officials said.

Some Mosul residents are filtering back, but others are living with relatives in the safer countryside or have sought refuge in neighboring Syria despite government pledges of financial support and protection.

The recent flight of Christians occurred against a backdrop of violence against the faith.

Churches, priests and businesses of the generally prosperous, well-educated community have been attacked by militants who denounce Christians as pro-American "crusaders" — a reference to the European knights who warred against the Muslim Middle East in the 9th through the 11th centuries. Some Christian women now wear Islamic veils for fear of being set afire or killed.

In an exodus which began after the 1991 Gulf War, and escalated dramatically after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, Iraq has lost more than half its Christian population of some 1 million.

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