Kirkuk, IRAQ – The disputed lands of Kirkuk continue to foster hostilities as the three major factions of Iraq pound Christian minorities in order to seize property and lay claim to the oil rich lands. Although Iraq is the native home to the Chaldean Catholic Church, one of the oldest Christian churches in the world, hundreds of thousands of Christians have been forced to flee since the US-led invasion of March 2003. “Our people are easy targets. Iraqi Christians are the Tibetans of the Middle East. We are peaceful,” says John Anwya. “These cowards attack Iraq’s native people.”
In northern Iraq a Christian missionary and teacher Namir Nadhim Gourguis, has been freed after just over a week in captivity, according to the Catholic missionary news agency Asia news.
Gourguis was well known in the community and loved. Mediation by tribal chiefs and local imams led to Gourguis' release just over a week after he was abducted by a gunmen last Thursday at an elementary school near the northern oil city of Kirkuk.
No ransom was paid for the release of 32-year-old Gourguis, according to Asia News. The archbishop of Kirkuk, Louis Sako, declared Friday a holiday for Christians to celebrate Gourguis' release. "After eight days in captivity, Namir is free. We thank God - today joy reigns in Kirkuk's Christian community."
Last year saw a wave of sectarian attacks against the Christian community in Iraq. The northern city of Mosul's archbishop, Paulos Faraj Rahho, was found dead last March after having been kidnapped, tortured, and beaten for about two weeks.
At least 14 Christians were killed in the northern city of Mosul in Nineveh province in three months and thousands of Christian families fled the city, according to the United Nations.