Baghdad: US forces sack Coptic church

 Christian Peacekeepers in Baghdad, issued a report today, documenting damage at the Holy Mary Orthodox Egyptian Coptic Church caused by US soldiers this summer. The church was built in 1668 and is located in Baghdad's Old City. Members of the CPT team visited the church with a human rights worker and recorded the following interview with the priests's assistant, which has been slightly edited. "Old Baghdad was a very dangerous place as the recent war ended this spring. There was no law and order. Looters were everywhere, so four Egyptian men and I were guarding the church. Looters came into the church through the windows one night, but the other guards and I were able to fend them off. Later, we covered the windows of the church with cement blocks to make it more secure. "There was a lot of shooting around the church on the evening of July 26, as many looters and gangs are centered in our area. But none of the gunfire was coming from the church. Soldiers from US Forces were nevertheless checking everywhere. They knocked on the door of the church that night, and I let them in. The soldiers immediately rushed in and spread throughout the church. They grabbed and handcuffed all five of us, detaining us together while they searched the entire grounds. "Some of the soldiers desecrated the altar by walking all over it with their boots, while others hammered on the brick walls of the church, damaging the bricks. "Yet another group of soldiers broke down the doors to several church offices. In one of the offices they pried open a small locked cabinet. They confiscated the passports belonging to the five of us, as well as 4.15 million Iraqi Dinars [$2,075 US] and $5,100 US of church money that was stored there. The money was being saved to buy books for the church library and for the future construction of a new church. [Most Iraqis do not keep valuables in banks due to the current instability]. "The soldiers then detained us for one night at a US base in central Baghdad, then another night at a US base near al-Shaab stadium, where they questioned us one by one. After holding us at the Baghdad International Airport for two nights, US soldiers took one of us to Abu Ghraib and the other four of us to al-Rasafah prison. They released those of us at al-Rasafah after three weeks. The fifth man was freed two days later, with the help of an Iraqi lawyer. "I have spent three months now trying to get our property back from the US Forces, but neither the money nor the passports have yet been returned. In this process, US military representatives sent me to eight different military bases, some of them several times each. I have done all they asked me to do, but I have made no progress at all. When they told me for the seventh time, 'Come back in two or three weeks,' two weeks ago, I became totally frustrated. I went to The Patriotic Association for Defense of Human Rights in Iraq because I heard they might be able to help us get our property back. "Our situation is very bad now. The church has lost all of its savings, and we have lost our irreplaceable documents-not only our current passports, but also our old ones, which prove our initial acquisition of visas to Iraq. I hope you will tell this story to Christians around the world." While visiting the church, Slater and Chandler observed the damaged walls, split doorframes, destroyed door locks, and the broken cabinet doors. Christian Peacemaker Teams is an ecumenical organisation which provides a violence-reducing presence in areas of lethal conflict around the world. CPT Iraq has been present in Baghdad since October 2002.

Share this story