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A large number of Iraqi intellectuals and politicians have called upon
Islamic religious leaders, the Iraqi Governing Council, other party
leaders and the Coalition Authorities to prevent Shia Muslim groups
attacking Christians.

A call by more than 200 mainly Muslim intellectuals and political
leaders from Iraq to stop attacks on Christians and cease forcing women
to wear the veil was published on Sunday 4 January on the Arabic website
Elaph [
http://www.ankawa.com/cgi-bin/ikonboard/topic.cgi?forum=55&topic=6 ].
The call was directed at Muslim clerics, the Iraqi Governing Council and
the Coalition Authorities. They specifically called upon Islamic
religious leaders to issue fatwas forbidding such atrocious crimes
against humanity and the Islamic [sic] religion.

The declaration said horrific crimes had been committed against women
in forcing them to wear the veil, but worst of all was the terrorising
of our Christian brothers, intimidating them to become Muslims. It drew
attention to the fact that Christians had lived in Iraq for two thousand
years and had contributed greatly to the regions civilisation, both
before and after the coming of Islam.

Shia militant groups which bear names such as Gods Vengeance and
Hezbollah have been subjecting the Christian community in Iraq to a
relentless series of attacks as reported by Barnabas Fund over the last
half year [
http://www.barnabasfund.org/News/Archive/Iraq/Iraq-20030514.htm ]. These
bold calls by over 200 key Iraqi intellectual and political figures are
a welcome move for the countrys Christians, acknowledging the problems
they are facing and calling for change.

Iraqi church leaders have also been speaking out against the increasing
persecution Christians are now suffering. Bishop Al-Qas said that
missiles were launched against a convent in October of last year, and
that Christians have received death threats, with many fleeing from
Basra. He attributed this to the greater freedom that Muslim
fundamentalist groups now have. The new head of the Chaldean Church,
Patriarch Emmanuel III, has also been outspoken in his fears. He said
that Muslims and Christians had lived side by side for countless years
in love and charity, but that they were now subject to attacks from
extremists coming in from Saudi Arabia and Iran. He added that if
legislation is enacted according to Islamic law, Christians will suffer.
He stressed that they would have no prospects if the new Iraqi
constitution was Islamic and that American intervention would be the
only way to avert such an outcome.

The Iraqi Governing Council have nearly finalised a transitional
constitution that would have Islam as one of its sources of law, but not
the sole one. Freedom of religious practice for non-Muslims and equal
rights for women would be guaranteed. This is another welcome sign. It
remains to be seen whether Iraqs conservative Shia community would
accept such a constitution.



Four Christian women were killed as militants from a passing car raked
their minibus with automatic gunfire.

On Wednesday 21 January nine Christian Iraqi women were on their way to
work in the laundry at Habaniyah US military base. Suddenly, four
masked men, in a white Opel, machine-gunned our minibus and four women
died, recounted survivor Maggi Aziz, 49. None of the passengers escaped
the attack, 50 miles west of Baghdad, unscathed. Maggi herself was
speaking from a hospital bed with wounds to the leg, shoulder and head.

Ashkik Varojan boarded the bus on Wednesday morning having decided to
hand in her resignation, rather than live in fear of reprisals for
cooperating with the coalition. Necessity had driven her to work to
support her paralysed husband and four children. On hearing the news of
her death, Anjel, her 20 year old daughter fainted with grief. Vera
Ibrahim, who survived, said I wont continue this work. I am afraid.
They wanted to kill us all.

Suzanne Azat, also a survivor, and Mussa Adam Abu Shaba, whose sister
Nadia was killed, believe the assailants were insurgents fighting
against the coalition forces.


On Monday 19 January there was a mass demonstration in Baghdad led by
the Shia leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani against the US plans
envisioned to ensure a stable and lasting democracy. According to the
Financial Times, some of the demonstrators were carrying pictures of
Jesus to make it appear that Christians were supporting the Shias, even
though virtually all Christian leaders are against Al-Sistanis policies.

Barnabas Fund works to support Christian communities mainly, but not
exclusively, in the Islamic world where they are facing poverty and
Barnabas Fund, The Old Rectory, River Street, PEWSEY, Wiltshire, SN9
5DB, UK. Tel: +44(0)1672 564938, Fax: +44(0)1672 565030, E-mail:
info@barnabasfund.org Web: www.barnabasfund.org



16th January 2004 A pastor who was also an active missionary has been
shot dead while he was praying in a chapel.

At 9.00pm on Monday 12 January gunmen burst into a churchyard in Isfara
in the north of Tajikistan and fired several rounds through a window at
Sergei Bessarab as he was kneeling in prayer. Forum 18 news agency
reported that on hearing the gunfire, his wife, Tamara, rushed to her
husbands side but he was already dead. Reuters also carried the story
and confirmed he was shot 13 times with a Kalashnikov assault rifle.

A local newspaper had only a week before attacked Bessarab for his
missionary work in this staunchly Muslim region. Women are often seen
wearing the veil in villages and alcohol is taboo, indeed shops stocking
it have sometimes been burnt down. The hard-line Islamic Revival Party
garnered a large majority of the local vote in recent elections, despite
central government attempts to curb the growth of Islamic extremism.
Bessarabs handing out of Christian literature aroused considerable
local anger. Nevertheless police have not yet confirmed that the
suspected motive for the murder was his missionary activity.


Local opposition to the missionary work of this pastor is typical
throughout the Muslim world. The reason lies in Islamic law, sharia,
which states that any male who converts from Islam should be put to
death. Barnabas Fund is currently engaged in a major international
campaign on behalf of converts from Islam focusing on the Islamic law of
apostasy and the treatment of converts in Islamic societies. The Fund is
calling upon Muslim religious leaders to condemn the harsh treatment of
converts and to make public statements calling for a reform of sharia
teaching on apostasy to clearly affirm that Muslims who choose to
convert to another faith are free to follow their personal convictions
without fear of punishment or harassment. Further details of the
campaign can be obtained by contacting Barnabas Fund or visiting the
Apostasy Campaign pages on our website


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