Protesters Decry Church Attacks, Religious Cleansing in Iraq

Protesters Decry Church Attacks, Religious Cleansing in Iraq

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DETROIT — Hundreds protested outside the McNamara Federal Building in Detroit on Monday demanding security for Iraq's diminishing Christian population.

The demonstration comes in the wake of a bloody church massacre in Baghdad that left 58 dead and 75 more injured after Al-Qaeda extremists raided Our Lady of Salvation Syriac Church during Sunday mass on Oct. 31.

The rally was one of several held across the globe to express solidarity with the victims of the church attack. Detroit protestors chanted, "stop the genocide," "wake up America," and "stop ethnic cleansing." They dressed in black, prayed, sang and waved signs urging the U.S. and Iraqi governments to end the series of attacks on Christians that have taken place since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, which protestors say have destabilized the country. One demonstrator held a sign up that read "U.S. gov't, you have made the world miss Saddam. Shame on you."

On Wednesday, only 10 days after the church raid, a string of bombings targeting Christian homes left at least three dead and 26 wounded. According to various reports extremists used 10 homemade bombs to destroy Christian homes in Baghdad. The attack came after terrorists firebombed three Christian homes in the Mansur district of western Baghdad on Tuesday. No casualties were reported in Tuesday's attacks.

"As a result of the U.S. occupying Iraq, its Christian population has declined from three percent to one percent, protestor Patrick Lossia said.

"If America never invaded Iraq in 2003, we would have stabilization. We're almost less than one percent of the minority in Iraq, but we're the ones dying the most. I didn't like Saddam Hussein, but it's a fact Iraq was safer under his regime."

Monsignor Emanual Shaleta, a pastor at the St. George Chaldean Catholic Parish of Shelby Township, says it's the U.S. government's obligation to bring peace to Iraq. "They invaded that country and that's why they can't escape the liability and the responsibility. They are responsible. They should know that what's happening in Iraq happened because of their presence there," Shaleta said.

In a speech given at the protest, Lawrence Mansour of the Sterling Heights Ishtar Cultural Center, condemned the American and Iraqi governments, saying neither has taken the initiative to stop the persecution of Christians in Iraq. He said nothing was done after a bus of Iraqi Christians on its way to Mosul University was bombed leaving 80 wounded and one dead in May. For Mansour, the protest isn't just about the recent church raid. He recalled the countless other religious attacks against Christians since the U.S. invaded Iraq.

"Every six months, we see tragedy from the killings of Christians from Mosul to the bombing of churches in Baghdad, to the ethnic cleansing of our Christians. Is America prepared to stand up to its core Democratic values of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Enough is enough. How long will it take for the blood of the innocent to drain to the lakes of Washington D.C., for all the politicians to know that we have endured enough suffering? The Iraqi government has still to take the initiative to protect these vulnerable minorities and it's the duty of the United States to aid them in installing security in all regions so that the minorities can otherwise protect themselves," Mansour said.

The names of all 58 victims who lost their lives in the most recent church raid were called out by Fr. Toma of the St. Toma Syriac Catholic Church in Farmington Hills during a silent ceremony at the protest. Toma encouraged interfaith unity between Muslims and Christians in his address to protestors.

"Abraham is Iraqi, Abraham was Jewish, Abraham was Christian, and Abraham was Muslim. We are all one. Jews, Christians, Muslims, we are all one. God is God, father of all, Jews, Christians and Muslims," Toma said. He fears Christians face extinction in Iraq.

Meanwhile, Sam Yono, also a keynote speaker at the rally, says the European Union, United Nations and the U.S. also haven't been involved in the peace process for Iraq's minorities. He demanded an investigation into the persecution of Christians. "Where is the investigation of the martyrs? Where is the investigation of the bombings of our churches? We want and demand a full investigation," Yono said.

Sue Kattula, president of Warren Consolidated Schools, says involvement from the U.S. government is necessary in the process of granting Iraq's minorities equal rights.

"We come together today to complete the prayers of the slain innocent, prayers for safety and for peace, for relief from the seemingly endless spear that has haunted them and other religious minorities for eight long years in their war torn country," Kattula said in her speech at the rally.

Protestor Jack Shamoun of Sterling Heights says extremists tried kicking all Christians out of Mosul two years ago and the Iraqi government did nothing to help.

Shamoun said, "Christians have been there for thousands of years. They are the indigenous people of that area. That is their country. They can't just tell them 'we are going to kick you out because of your faith.'"

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, Michael Corbin, visited Detroit in June to speak with the Chaldean community about their concerns. He said the U.S. would withdraw its troops from Iraq by the end of 2011, and plans to make security in that nation a top priority. Corbin said the U.S. government would also work closely with Iraq to ensure a government was established where all religious and ethnic groups are fairly represented.