By BosNewsLife Middle East Service
BAGHDAD, IRAQ (BosNewsLife)-- Minority Christians in Iraq feared more violence Saturday, June 29, after several Assyrian Christian shops and one church were attacked, killing two people and injuring a dozen others, church representatives said.
The attacks began early Tuesday, June 15, when gunmen wounded two guards outside the St. Mary Assyrian Church in east Baghdad, according to local Christians and the Interior Ministry.
Reverend Martin David of the church said the armed men attacked security guards around 2 a.m. local time, injuring 31-year-old Yakoob Zabook "in the stomach" and hitting Raad Mekha, 26, "in the leg".
One guard reportedly remained in hospital but was in stable condition Saturday, June 29.
Also this week, three Assyrian-owned businesses were bombed in Baghdad's Karada district including the large Warda Store on Alkarada street where Ashur Yonan, an Assyrian, and a Muslim employee were killed, Assyrian church sources said.
Witnesses said they had seen several people injured and video footage confirmed the store was destroyed. The Assyrian International News Agency (AINA) said besides the Warda Store another Assyrian shop, Mariana, was attacked in the area, though there were no immediate reports of injuries.
AINA, which has been in close contact with local believers, claimed "booby trapped cars" were used in both attacks.
Two days earlier liquor stores, including those owned by Assyrian Christians, were attacked after Muslims reportedly ordered them to stop selling alcoholic drinks.
AINA said the latest violence comes amid concerns that Assyrians, one of the main Christian groups in Iraq, are once again the target of violence as part of a wider anti-Christian campaign by Islamic militants that began in 2004 when the first church was bombed,
Since then the population of Assyrians in Iraq has dropped from 1.4 million to 600,000 with over half of Assyrians fleeing Iraq to Syria, Jordan and Turkey, according to Assyrian church estimates.
Other estimates say the real figure may be as low as 350,000.
Christians said attacks against churches and their leaders have attributed to the exodus.
Last month, at least 140 people died during four consecutive days of violence, raising fears that sectarian conflicts could lead the troubled Middle East nation into civil war.
"It is difficult to tell of the intensity of violence here over the past week," explained Canon Andrew White, who leads the St. George's Anglican Church in Baghdad, the capital. "The slaughters and massacres have intensified so much that the sound of explosions has almost become the norm," he added in a statement monitored by BosNewsLife.
Since 2004 at least 15 church leaders were kidnapped, including seven priests and three deacons who were murdered, while five priests were released after ransom was paid.
Additionally, 73 churches were attacked or bombed since June, 2004 invluding 45 in Baghdad, 19 in Mosul, 7 in Kirkuk and 1 in Ramadi, according to an AINA count.
AINA said that at least 13 young women were abducted and raped, "causing some of them to commit suicide".
Female students were reportedly targeted in Basra and Mosul for not wearing veils with nitric acid thrown in their faces. Church elders of a village in Mosul were warned not to send females to universities, Christians said.
Islamists have also circulated letters warning all Christian women to veil themselves.
The terror group Al-Qaeda has also moved into an Assyrian neighborhood to collect jizya, a special tax levied on a section of an Islamic state's non-Muslim citizens. Militants were reportedly also demanding that women be sent to the mosque to be married off to Muslims.
AINA estimates that of Assyrian businesses, some 95 percent of liquor stores were attacked, defaced or bombed. Additionally,
500 Assyrian shops in a Dora market were burned in one night, it said.
In recent years, it alleged that property was confiscated by Kurds in the north and Shiites in Baghdad.
Kurdish authorities allegedly denied foreign reconstruction assistance for Assyrian communities and used public works projects to divert water and other vital resources from Assyrian to Kurdish communities. There was no immediate comment from Kurdish officials.
Anti-Christian forces were also seen blockading Assyrian villages, while Christian children were kidnapped and forcibly transferred to Kurdish families.
Louis Raphael Sako, the recently elected Chaldean Catholic patriarch of Iraq and Syria, says he is afraid of what growing Islamist influence and Islamist rule would mean for Christians in Iraq.
"People are afraid of a kind of Islamic state as it was in the seventh century where Christians would be considered second-class citizens," he added in published remarks.
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is 'Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals' since 2004).
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