Iraq crisis: The last Christians of Baghdad

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Last Christmas in Baghdad? There are just 1,500 Christians left in the suburb of Dora, down from 150,000 a decade ago. There will be no last stand for the besieged Iraqi Christians of Dora. Father Timothaeus Issa talks of holding out for the sake of his dwindling flock, but even he is packing his bags, just in case.
 
"The people with families have left," he said. "The old people, some of them have stayed. All the young people have left. There are very few children here.
 
"As for me, in terms of my religious responsibilities, my job is to be father of my people here. I have to stay with these families.
 
"But personally, I'm thinking about it. I'm making my preparations."
 
Dora's is not a precipitate flight, as so many others of Christians and other minorities in Iraq have been in 2014: a year of ethnic cleansing that capped a decade of violence and disasters. It is more deliberate, but more permanent.
 
"I think all our families are thinking of emigrating now," Fr Timothaeus said. "They are marking time. They think of their lives here as temporary."
 
Dora is a suburb of Baghdad, a city which has ironically become safer as the rest of Iraq has burned in 2014.
 
But it is a Sunni suburb, and in Iraq's fractured sectarian politics that means it is awash with jihadis of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and their sympathisers.
 
The constant death threats have built on years of bombings and kidnaps to create a psychological turning point for what was once a thriving mixed community.
 
A decade ago, when the Americans and British invaded Iraq, there were 150,000 Christians – mostly Assyrian and Chaldean Catholics – living in Dora. With its broad if dusty streets, and comfortable villas, it must have been a decent place to live.
 
Now, the blast walls that snake through Baghdad turn Dora – like most of the city's suburbs – into a Russian doll of communities: Christians are surrounded by Sunnis, themselves walled off from Baghdad's surrounding Shia majority.
 
Just 1,500 Christians remain.
 
They worship at the emptying churches like Fr Timothaeus's St Shmoni's, behind barricades and army checkpoints. Every month, he says, two or three more families load their cars and quit.
 
The means of their gradual expulsion vary with the years. Only the end result – flight, and emigration to Sweden and America – remains the same.
 
Despite talks of genocide, the Christians have not been killed in large numbers this year – spared the mass shootings of thousands of soldiers, the casual killings of Turkmen Shia, the roadside murders and collective rapes of Yazidis that followed Isil's lethal sweep through the country in the summer.
 
But they have not been allowed to remain. In Qaraqosh, Bartella, Tel Kayf and the other Christian towns of the Ninevah plain around Mosul, they were given 48 hours to leave when Isil arrived.
 
In Mosul, they were told to convert or die.
 
In Dora, they get death threats. A note is left, telling a house's occupants they have a day to leave.
 
Sometimes, they are told to leave money – $800 is normal – at a named shop, if they want to remain. They hand over the money and leave anyway.
 
This is not new, and for some the threats follow them wherever they go – until they leave the country.
 
"They left an envelope with a bullet in it at my house," said Fadi, 38, a former Dora resident. "The message said, 'you are an infidel Crusader. Leave or we will kill you and your family.'
 
"So I left Dora and went over to my brother's house somewhere safer. They burned down my apartment and then threatened me at my brother's too."
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The Telegraph – UK
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iraq/11307515/Iraq-crisis-The-last-Christians-of-Dora.html