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Iraqi Christians Form Security Patrols to Protect Villages
By Guest Reporter :: Wednesday, September 10, 2008 :: 50686 Views :: Law & Order, World News & Odds 'N' Ends

Tel Asquf, IRAQ - Controversy continues to swirl over the establishment of the first Iraqi Christian Militia enforce.  Frustrated over the lack of protection or justice, Iraqi Christians have decided to protect their town.  With Kalashnikovs slung over their shoulders, members of Iraq's first Christian militia share one simple rule on the border of this little village: "Anyone not from Tel Asquf is banned."

A member of a Christian militia stands guard outside the St. George church in the village of Tel Asquf in northern Iraq's flash-point Nineveh province, which is often targeted by Sunni and Shi'ite fighters. The militia members man checkpoints at the village's four entrances. "If we don't defend ourselves, who will?" asked militia leader Abu Nataq.  "The terrorists want to kill us because we are Christian. If we don't defend ourselves, who will?" Abu Nataq, says.

This village in northern Iraq's flash-point Nineveh province, frequently targeted by Sunni and Shi'ite fighters, has taken security into its own hands with armed patrols and checkpoints at the village's four entrances.

The village borders are marked with a sand barrier built by residents in a bid to stop car bombs breaching the perimeter as they did in 2007 when two such attacks within six months rocked the village and spurred the local authorities into action.

Paulos Tabet is the head of the Chaldean Catholic church in the northern Iraqi town of Karamles. Many of Iraq's churches have paid a heavy price in this violent region.  Christians are often victims of sectarian violence, killings and kidnappings at the hands of both Sunni and Shi'ite Islamists, as well as criminal gangs.

Iraq's Christians, with the Chaldean rite by far the largest community, were said to number as many as 800,000 before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, but this number is thought to have halved as people fled the brutal sectarian violence.

Neighborhood militias have become popular in Iraq, particularly with the rise of the Awakening groups — former Sunni insurgents who switched sides and are now paid by U.S. forces to battle al Qaeda.

But Iraq's Christian population, concentrated in Nineveh and its capital city Mosul, had not until now organized its own fighting force to protect against attack.

"We used to pay 'jezya' [protection money], and they would leave us alone," Mr. Nataq said in reference to a tax levied on the Christian community by al Qaeda in exchange for peace.

The term harks back to the seventh century, a period of great expansion in Islam when Christians and Jews were forced to pay taxes to the majority Muslims.

But Tel Asquf's villagers rebelled against the payments and called on the help of the Kurdish forces of Irbil, the nearby capital of Iraq's Kurdish region, after judging that Mosul had too large a Sunni population.

"I prefer the help of Kurdistan, of the peshmerga," Mr. Nataq said. The Kurdish fighters now control the roads leading to the village and claim large swathes of the region, much to the fury of Mosul's Arab population, he added.

The peshmerga provide Kalashnikov rifles and radios to the 200 Christian militiamen who receive around $200 a month from the Irbil administration to protect the 8,000 inhabitants of the village.

 A Kurdish peshmerga security guard checks the documents of a driver crossing from Mosul into Iraqi Kurdistan. Tel Asquf's villagers have called on Kurdish forces for help.

Since the arrangement was introduced about 10 months ago, the Christian militiamen have never had to use their weapons, "because the peshmerga form the first line of defense," Mr. Nataq said.

Christian fighters are stationed at the village's entry points and mobile teams patrol inside the inner cordon, especially around the Chaldean Catholic Church of St. George, which, like many of Iraq's churches, has paid a heavy price in this blood-soaked land.

On Jan. 6, a series of bombs exploded outside churches and a monastery in Mosul, in an apparently coordinated attack that wounded four people and damaged buildings, as Christians celebrated Epiphany.

In March, the body of Iraq's kidnapped Chaldean Catholic archbishop, Paulos Faraj Rahho, was found near Mosul, prompting condemnation from Pope Benedict XVI and President Bush.

Along with thousands of other Christians, the archbishop used to pay the "jezya" but decided to stop. Some think that this was the reason for his kidnapping and killing.

Hani Petrus, 45, fled to Tel Asquf seeking refuge from the bloodshed, like dozens of other Christians from Baghdad, Samarra and Basra.

Members of a Christian militia register their guns in the village of Tel Asquf, where the villagers have taken security into their own hands with armed patrols and checkpoints.

"I am a school headmaster, but I used to work in a [gas] station in Mosul. The terrorists used to come and serve themselves [gasoline] for free and take money from the cash register: 200 to 300 dollars each time," he said.

"In Mosul, my children were not able to play in the street. I didn't want to let my 12-year-old daughter go to school. I was so worried about her," he said, adding that his family was part of four families crammed in one house.

"We are virtually living on top of one another, and everything is expensive because the shopkeepers know that we cannot make the trip into Mosul," he said.

Salem Samoon Jbo used to sell liquor in Basra but fled north, first to Baghdad and then Tel Asquf, after Shi'ite extremists ordered him to close the store in 2006. They had learned that he was a part-time bomb disposal expert for the U.S. forces.

Now the 46-year-old stands guard outside one of the entrances to the St. George Church.

He works seven days — alternating two hours on duty and two hours off — then takes two weeks off.

"There isn't any other work here. There is nothing else to do. I don't like guns, but I have no other choice," he said.

Mother of God Church, MI USA

 

Mother of God Chaldean Catholic Church
25585 Berg Road
Southfield, MI 48033
Tel: (248) 356-0565
Fax: (248) 356-5235
Email:
MotherOfGodChurch@yahoo.com

Founding Pastor:
Msgr. Geroge Garmo in 1972
The current church building
was completed in 1980.

Pastor:
Rev.  Manuel Yousif Boji

Parochial Vicar:
Rev. Wisam Matti
 


 MASS SCHEDULE
Daily:  10:00 AM Chaldean
Tuesdays:  5:30 PM Chaldean/English 
Saturdays:  Ramsha 4:45-5:20 PM; Mass 5:30 PM Chaldean   
Sundays:  8:30 AM Arabic, 10:00 AM English, 12:00 PM Chaldean

 1st Friday, Sodality Prayers 11 AM – 12 PM
1st Saturday, Immaculate Heart Sodality Prayers 4:00 PM

TEAM NAME:
Mother of God Guardian Angels

SERVICES:
Communion & Catechism School
Chaldean Language School
Hall Rental
Wedding Services
Baptism Services
Funeral Services

CHURCH GROUPS:
Monday: Family Bible Study 8:00 P.M. Upper Hall
Friday: Young Adult English Bible Study 7:30 P.M. Lower Hall
Wednesday: Young Adult Arabic Bible Study 7:30 P.M. Lower Hall
Prayer Groups
Our Lady Social
Ur of the Chaldees
Knights of Columbus
Mass Servers
Youth Choir
Adult Choir
Family Fun Friday
Friday Friends
Communications Ministry
Chaldean Teens Coming Together
Performance Ministry
Gift Store
Library and Research
Social Ministry & Support
Chaldean Language Classes
Fishers of Men
 


 Rev. Manuel Yousif Boji

Fr. Manuel was born in Telkaif in the suburbs of Nineveh, Iraq in 1946.   Reverend Manuel Boji entered the Chaldean Seminary in Mousl in 1958 and was ordained a priest in Baghdad in 1968.  His first assignment was in Telkaif where he served for 19 years.  In July 1987, Fr. Manuel was assigned  to the United States  where he assisted Mar Addai Parish in Oak Park, Michigan for six months.  From March 1988 until April 1990, he was administrator of Sacred Heart Parish in Detroit, Michigan.  Fr. Manuel completed his Masters and Doctorate work from both U of D Mercy and Wayne State University while assigned to the United States.  In May 1990, Fr. Manuel was assigned to Mother of God Parish and is currently serving there as Rector of the Cathedral. 

Parochial Vicar: Rev. Wisam Matti

Fr. Wisam was born in Basrah, Iraq on October 30, 1971. Completing his education in Iraq and serving in the military Fr. Wisam then entered the Chaldean Seminary in Baghdad in 1984.  He was ordained a priest in Karemlees a suburb of Nineveh on July 4th 1997.  His first assignment was in Mosul where he served for five years.  On January 21, 2002, Fr. Wisam was transferred to the Unites States and was assigned to Mother of God Parish where he is currently serving as parochial vicar.  Fr. Wisam, earned his Master in Pastoral Theology on April 28, 2007 from Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan. 

PARISH COUNCIL: