Christmas canceled in Iraq for fear of violence

December 22, 2010 8:17:18 PM PST
Official Christmas celebrations in Iraq have been canceled. There is growing violence aimed at Iraqi Christians and a steady stream of refugees who may never return home. Many are worried that there is an organized effort to eliminate Christians entirely from Iraq. There are some Christian Iraqis who fled and are now living in the East Bay.

Wednesday, 65-year-old Iraqi Christian Anwar Faransso sits in a conference room of the East Bay's Catholic Charities. It's a long way from his native Iraq where years ago he and his wife were Baghdad University professors in the school of pharmacy.

Anwar, his wife and three children left Iraq in 1998 because the economic outlook was gloomy. Now, what's left of the Christian population there is desperate to follow.

"The problem is those who are not leaving, it's not because they don't want to leave, it's because they can't," says Anwar.

The United Nation estimates the Iraq War created two million refugees. Anwar says at one time, Christians accounted for between five and six percent of Iraq's population. Now, it's about one or two percent.

Candles in a Baghdad Catholic church commemorate the 68 people massacred there by an Al Qaida-affiliated group in October. Five of those killed were Anwar's relatives.

"Inside the church, when the people were at Sunday mass praying, what kind of religion comes to kill children? You know one of the children was 4-months-old?" says Anwar.

Anwar's 32-year-old nephew, Zaid Faransso, came to the U.S. two years ago. He left his career as a doctor when his non-Christian friends suddenly changed.

"'This city is not yours, you have to leave. This part of the country is not for you. You're not supposed to be in a certain position because you're so-and-so,'" says Zaid.

Hopes of ever going home are vanishing.

"Christmases will never be the same. The lack of family, being here away from the cultures and traditions I used to celebrate every year," says Zaid.

And there is constant worry about friends and family left behind -- the old and ill who have no way out.

"We have to pray, I always pray for them, for God to protect them, and find an easy way for them to leave," says Anwar.

The U.S. has been criticized for not allowing more Iraqi refugees into the U.S., even as the Senate has cut funds for refugee programs due to budget problems.


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