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[casi] Iraq: Christians 'murdered for selling alcohol'

1) Christians 'murdered for selling alcohol'
2) Shiite gains trouble Christians

May 09, 2003, Friday

Christians 'murdered for selling alcohol'

By Kate Connolly

TWO Christians fell victim to the upsurge in Islamic fundamentalism
sweeping Iraq when they were shot dead in Basra yesterday by
suspected militants attempting to stamp out the sale of alcohol.

The men, who were alcohol vendors in a district of the southern Iraqi
city that is home to Armenian and Syrian Catholics, were shot within
10 minutes of each other in their shops by two men, witnesses said.

Shia clerics - whose influence was suppressed under Saddam Hussein -
have been warning shopkeepers for weeks to stop selling alcohol or
risk severe punishment.

The clerics have become increasingly vocal on a variety of issues,
including the status of women, since Saddam's fall.

Under Saddam, Iraqi Christians were the only citizens permitted to
sell alcohol. The trade would attract day trippers from neighbouring
Kuwait, about two hours' drive away, which has a complete ban on

Yesterday shopkeepers closed their doors and warned that such
killings were to be expected while the country had no rule of law.


Sunday, May 11, 2003

Shiite gains trouble Christians
Iraqi Christians feel imperiled, harassed by hostile Muslim groups

By Michael Slackman and Robyn Dixon / Los Angeles Times

BAGHDAD -- When the head of Iraq's largest Christian community tries to lead
his congregation in prayer these days, it is often impossible to be heard,
even in the front pew of his church.

There used to be a Baath Party office across the street -- an intimidating
presence, but a quiet one. Now, a group of Shiite Muslims has taken over the
building. They have converted it into a mosque and have mounted half a dozen
massive speakers on the structure, which they use to broadcast their
religious messages into the streets.

The small church is being overwhelmed, and its members are terrified.
"There is no peace, and we are all afraid," said Monsignor Ishlemon Warduni,
auxiliary bishop of the Chaldean Patriarch in Iraq. "We are especially
afraid of the fanatics."

Under Saddam Hussein's regime, Iraq's more than 800,000 Christians enjoyed
freedom to worship, at least while they were inside their churches. Now,
Christians throughout Iraq are feeling intimidated.
>From Mosul in the north to Baghdad in central Iraq and Basra in the south,
Christians say they feel like their homes, businesses and churches are
islands about to be swept away. They say they are being harassed and
threatened by members of Shiite Muslim groups who are grabbing power and who
appear eager to transform Iraq into an Islamic republic.

"It is difficult for us to pray now," said Monsignor Emanuel Dally,
consultor of the patriarch. "They pray loudly with microphones. Our people
are hesitating to come to church."

An odd time

Shiite Muslims make up the majority of Iraq's population, but for the last
three decades, they were oppressed by Hussein's Sunni-dominated government.
With the regime gone and the United States and Britain moving slowly to fill
the power vacuum, many Shiite groups have asserted themselves, taking over
buildings, renaming streets, setting up security patrols, operating
hospitals and issuing orders to nonbelievers to abide by the Muslims'
religious ways.

For Christians, this is an odd time; they are suspended between hope that
they might gain true religious freedom and fear that they may lose what
rights they had. When Hussein was in power, Christians were not permitted to
run religious schools or proselytize outside their churches. But they could
hold services regularly.
In recent weeks, Christians say, militant Shiites have threatened to kill
people who produced and sold alcohol, which is considered illegal under
Islamic law but was allowed under Hussein. Churchgoing women say they have
been taunted for not covering their heads. Shopkeepers report being harassed
for selling magazines with advertisements featuring women.

Warduni said he was so alarmed that he wrote a letter more than a week ago
to retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, who has been heading up the
postwar reconstruction efforts in Iraq.

"We want to tell the Americans that we have a 2,000-year history in this
country," said the leader of the Chaldean community, which makes up about 80
percent of Iraq's Christian population. "We want to tell them that we want
our religious freedom and our cultural rights. Security is the main problem
we want America to think about."

Garner's Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance for Postwar
Iraq, which set up shop in Baghdad about two weeks ago, did not respond when
asked why it had not answered Warduni's letter.
Liquor stores targeted

Though Christians all over Iraq feel threatened, the sense of unease is
perhaps strongest in the Shiite-dominated south.

In Basra -- as in much of Iraq -- the sale of alcohol has always been the
profitable realm of the Christian community. During the battle for the city,
and even after Hussein's forces fled last month and looters descended, the
Christian liquor dealers never closed their doors. Amid war and chaos, there
was still a market for whiskey and beer.

But in recent days they have placed steel barriers across their windows or
closed after Islamic militants with Kalashnikov rifles and grenades
threatened to bomb the stores and kill the owners unless they shut down for

In Basra, as in Baghdad, Shiite banners urge women to wear traditional
Islamic clothing and cover their hair. At least some Christian women say
they feel threatened.

Shereen Musa, 22, was walking through Basra's market with her mother last
week when she heard voices calling out, "Shame! Shame!" and telling her she
should not go out with her head uncovered. Then someone started throwing

"Everyone was laughing at me, and I was crying. When I had to walk back
through the same place, someone saw a cross on my neck and said: 'Oh, you're
a Christian. You'll suffer a terrible fate.' "

Musa is worried such attacks could escalate into more serious violence. "If
we stay here, we think they'll finish us," she said.

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