Interview with G & F (Initials of first names will be used to protect the participant’s identity). Following an October 31st attack, I was able to bring two men down to COS Kalsu for a meeting and interview. At the time, no one knew the common history G and I shared.
This interview took place on December 2, 2010. The emotion of what happened in that church was still raw. It was one of the saddest interviews I conducted during my second deployment.
Topic: Christian Persecution and Migration
Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF):
Iraq’s Christian community is experiencing increased persecution
- Fear among Christians has increased substantially in the last month
- Many Christians question whether they can trust their own government to provide them the security they need to live peacefully in Iraq
Social Scientist Smith and Research Manager J of HTT10 recently coordinated an interview with two Iraqi Christians who head a local NGO in part of 3d ACR’s AO.
The subjects drove down to COS Kalsu from Baghdad arriving at EPC 1 at 0800 on 2Dec2010. This was their first visit to COS Kalsu and entry was time consuming, but processed through with no difficulty. The memo prepared by the BDOC was expedited and approved in less than 3 hours.
The purpose of this interview was to gain insight into the current increased wave of violence against the Christian community in Iraq. “G” was an eyewitness to the recent attack on the church, Our Lady of Salvation church in Baghdad 31Oct2010.
The following account was presented to HTTIZ10 and offered as information to be added to the current body of knowledge.
SS Smith: G, in your own words, please give your account of what happened on the evening of 31Oct2010 while you were attending the services at your church.
G: Our church has a group of security guards who stand at the doors to insure the safety of our members. There were eight men on duty that night. Next door at the financial securities office there were also 6-8 professional guards standing watch at that business. At approximately 5:30 PM I heard some noise outside and went to investigate. Within minutes our church was overwhelmed by eight terrorists who killed our security guards and entered the church. One terrorist went up to the top of the church, he was the sniper. He had the perfect vantage point to kill anyone coming to the church to help the people inside. There were 4 terrorists with suicide vests on who came into the main worship center. The other four had grenades and guns. One was on the roof, seven were in the main area where the church members where gathered. Soon after they entered the church they quickly killed the two youngest priests. They shot the older priest, but he was only wounded. Once the main doors were closed we were trapped and these men controlled the entire church. This is when they started killing the members. There were about 200 people inside during this time. There was blood everywhere and many people were dead within minutes. Some people just lay among the dead pretending to be dead while the gunmen continued to kill as many Christians as possible. I remember a four month old child lying on the floor crying and these men just walked over and killed that innocent baby. It was a slaughter. The men were all killed first. Then they started killing the women. Often we heard the attackers shouting, “Allah akbar” as they were killing as many people as possible.
SS Smith: How long did this killing spree last?
G: The killing lasted for 4 hours. The Iraqi Army had arrived outside as did several Iraqi police, but did not enter the church. They were waiting for orders before they took control. This is what we don’t understand. Why did they not help the people on the inside? What was the reason for not rushing on in and helping the members of the church?
Forty to sixty people were hiding in the back room behind the altar at the front of the church where the priest changes into his robes. After the terrorists realized there were people in the back room, they threw grenades in on them. All the suicide bombers were successful. The last suicide bomber was a 12 year old boy. At the end of the ordeal this boy climbed up onto the altar and pulled the cross down and shouted like the other terrorists, “Allah akbar.” He then pushed his button and killed himself.
SS Smith: What is the feeling of the survivors now?
G: Well, it was a dark night. Al Qaida considers this their most successful attack on Christians to date. Fifty-three people died inside our church including that 4 month old baby. Sixty-one others were seriously injured and taken to the hospital for treatment. One victim was an 85 year old woman.
This was an organized and planned attack. After a few days, attacks continued at the homes of many Christians. One Christian widow told me how a bomb went off in front of her home and she rushed her four children up to the roof of her house and jumped to the rooftop of her neighbor’s house. She narrowly escaped with her children. They have not returned to their home leaving with only the clothes on their back.
SS Smith: What is happening now in the Christian community around Iraq?
G: Christians are leaving Baghdad and surrounding areas. They are traveling up to the north of Iraq or trying to get out. These events are our history. Many minorities have had this experience.
F: Years ago it was the Jews and then the Iranian-Iraqis. I remember hearing an old Jewish person say, “Sunday follows Saturday” a reference to the persecution to come for Christians. We are now experiencing this more and more.
G: Economically we are also being oppressed. The value of our homes and businesses is dropping. Realtors are telling non-Christians “do not buy the property of Christians now, wait. Tomorrow when they are gone it will all be free.” What can we do? Even some religious leaders are telling the people not to buy from Christian businesses. Eventually the goods and products will be abandoned and free for the taking.
SS Smith: What is next for the Iraqi Christians, for you?
G: My NGO is helping these fearful Christians flee to the north. I am helping them with blankets and food. We are also providing transportation to as many people as possible to travel out to Christian villages. We currently have over 500 Christian families up north and 300 families moving into villages that are Christian. One priest has signed over 600 baptism certificates for members of various churches so we can join other churches and prove our Christian faith.
The Christians who can leave Iraq are trying to get out to other countries. However, we are being sold out by the Iraqi government who says we are not persecuted. This is a setback for our refugee status. We are like a ball being kicked around by our government and the governments of other countries since our status is not clear.
Conclusion: SS Smith submits this interview as responsibly as possible. Many people have suffered in Iraq. Suffering is not new to the Iraqi people. Stability and security is not equally experienced across many areas of Iraq. Awareness of the problem and intervention by the Iraqi Police and Security Forces should be encouraged to protect all of Iraq’s people.
What I present in this posting continues in Iraq, Syria, Egypt and other countries where Islam is on the move. Centuries of co-existence has ended.
As more emphasis is placed on Shari’a Law and Muslim domination, the greater persecution Christians will experience.
Awakened by what I have witnessed,
Dr. C. Brandt Smith, Jr.