Friday, October 7, 2022
St. Thomas News & Information
Latest News & Information

Current Articles | Archives | Search

Iraqi Christians Form Security Patrols to Protect Villages
By Guest Reporter :: Wednesday, September 10, 2008 :: 81746 Views :: Article Rating :: 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.

Rating
St. Thomas, MI USA

St. Thomas Chaldean Catholic Church
6900 Maple Rd.
West Bloomfield, MI 48322
Tel: (248) 788-2460
Fax: (248) 788-2153

Founding Pastor:
Rev. Hanna Cheikho

Current Pastor:
Rev. Frank Kalabat

Parochial Vicar:
Rev. Jirjis Abrahim

Rev. Emmanuel Rayes, Retired  


Rev. Frank Kalabat
 

Rev. Frank Kalabat was born in 1970 in San Diego, California and entered St. Francis Seminary of San Diego, California.  The admission to the Catholic seminary made him the first born U.S. Chaldean to enter an American seminary.  In 1992, Fr. Kalabat continued his studies at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan.  In July 1995, shortly after graduation he was ordained as priest by His Excellency Bishop Ibrahim N. Ibrahim.  

Fr. Frank chose Mother of God Parish in Southfield, MI. as his first assignment serving the Chaldean community as an associate pastor for half a decade.  In 2001, Fr. Kalabat was elected to serve as Pastor of St. Tomas Parish in West Bloomfield, Michigan where he remains today.   

Rev. Jirjis Abrahim

Rev. Jirjis Abrahim was born in Telkaif, Iraq in 1942. Upon graduation Fr. Abrahim was admitted to St. Peter Chaldean Seminary in Baghdad, Iraq.  After a decade of studies and numerous degrees, Fr. Abrhim was ordained a priest in 1967.  He chose to continue ministering in Baghdad, Iraq.  There he was appointed the headmaster of the catechism at Mother of Sorrows Cathedral.  Fr. Abrahim also assisted St. Therese Church in Baghdad until 1978.  Afterward he was asked to assist St. Joseph Church in Baghdad and was appointed Parochial Vicar from 1978-1992. 

In 1992, Fr. Abrahim was called upon to assist the growing Chaldean population in Michigan.  Upon his arrival he was assigned to St. Joseph Church in Tory, Michigan.  Two years later Fr. Abrahim was asked to become the pastor of a Parish community in Windsor, Canada  where he remained the parish pastor until 2001.

Continuing demographic changes in Michigan required Fr. Abrahim to return to St. Joseph Parish in Tory as a Parochial Vicar, where he remained until 2006.  In 2006 he was elected to St. Thomas Parish as Parochial Vicar in West Bloomfield, MI. where he currently serves the Chaldean community.

 

Rev. Emmanuel Rayes

Rev. Emmanuel Rays was born in Araden, Iraq in 1930.  He studied at St. John Dominican Seminary and was ordained to the priesthood in 1954.  The Chaldean catholic ambassador ministered in northern Iraq from 1954-1963, in Syria and Lebanon from 1963-1980, and in the United Stated from 1980 to the present day.
 
Form 1980-1983, he was appointed associate pastor at Mother of God Parish in Southfield, Michigan.  From 1983-1989 he served as pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in Detroit, Michigan.  During the early 1990’s he ministered to the Chaldean community in Farmington Hills and was at St. Joseph Parish in Tory where he was Parochial Vicar until 2000.

Although Fr. Rayes retired in 2001, he remains active in serving the community.  He is the author of many articles in Arabic and is the editor-in-chief of the Al Mishal and Al-Tariq magazine.  He has translated and continues to translate many books from French and English into Arabic.