Iraq: August 1, 2004

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Six Christian churches in Baghdad and Mosul were attacked with bombs. One of the bombs was disarmed, but the other five went off, killing eleven and over fifty wounded. There are some 700,000 Christians in Iraq and they have been there nearly 2,000 years. Relations have generally been friendly with the Moslem majority, although there is some tension because foreign occupiers (Turks and British) used Christians to help control the Moslem majority.  This never led to sustained persecution. Most of the Christians are Chaldean Roman Catholic,  the rest are largely Syrian Catholic, Syrian Orthodox and Assyrian. For centuries, the Christians were allowed to make and sell alcoholic beverages. In the 1990s, Saddam got religion, gave into demands from Islamic conservatives, and forbade Christians from selling booze to Moslems, but this trade just went underground. Before the 1991 war, there were over a million Christians in Iraq, but many began to flee the economic and political chaos. Iraqi Christians have been moving to the United States for nearly a century, and there are thought to be several hundred thousand of them, and their descendents, mostly around Chicago and Detroit. 

Al Qaeda represents a form of Islam that calls for all infidels (non Moslems) to be expelled from the Middle East. While Iraqi Shia and Sunni Moslem conservatives have attacked Iraqi Christian liquor stores since the fall of Saddam's government, they have not attacked churches, or the homes of Christians. The Iraqi Shia radicals, supported by Iran, condemned the attacks on Christian churches. All Iraqis condemned the bombings and blamed them on foreigners working for al Qaeda. The growing unpopularity of al Qaeda in Iraq is spreading to the rest of the Moslem world. The Arab media spreads the images of these attacks, and the reaction of local Iraqis, quickly and widely throughout the Moslem world. Al Qaeda had long proclaimed itself the champion of Moslems against the infidels (non-Moslems.) The brutal attacks against Moslems in Iraq and Saudi Arabia contradict this, and cost al Qaeda much of the favorable image it had because of the attacks on American targets since the 1990s.  

The government says that police raids in recent weeks have arrested 270 foreigners, as suspected members of terrorist organizations. The government believes that 90 percent of the suicide bombers are foreigners. Those arrested include Iranians and Syrians, but most are from the Persian Gulf, especially Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The borders with Iran, Syrian and Saudi Arabia contain hundreds of kilometers of open and unmonitored terrain that can be driven across. Also, the official crossing points with Iran do not check documents because most of the religious pilgrims from Iran don't have them. But the pilgrims do bring money, so the border guards do not stop them. The Iranian pilgrims have become a major boost to the economy in southern Iraq. 

Al Qaeda and the Sunni Arab rebels continue the suicide bombings, kidnappings and assassinations. These efforts kill or wound dozens of Iraqis every day, but are not extensive enough to threaten government control of the country. Al Qaeda has turned the population against them with their daily bombings, and the Sunni Arabs have long been hated by the majority of Iraqis. Apparently many, perhaps a majority, of Sunni Arabs are behind the new government. But the Baath Party and pro-Saddam gunmen continue to use terror against any Sunni Arabs who work for the government, or openly express support for the government. There is no shortage of volunteers for police and security force jobs in Sunni areas. Despite the terror tactics and assassinations, Sunni Arabs continue to take pro-government leadership jobs in Sunni Arab areas. The anti-government forces have not been able to get much of a civil war with the Iraqi majority going, but there is a vicious war within the Sunni Arab minority (about 20 percent of the population). Most Sunni Arabs recognize that retaking control of Iraq in the short run, as long as American troops are around, is impossible. But many of the thugs who kept Saddam in power, aren't willing to wait a decade or more for the better educated and connected Sunni Arabs to get back into positions of power. The thugs are assisted by a lot of young wannabes (there was never a lack of recruits for Saddam's secret police) and the hated al Qaeda. It's a confederacy of murderous losers.

 

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