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IV. Attacks on Ethnic and Religious Groups

A primary target of some insurgent groups has been the Shi`a Muslim, Kurdish and Christian communities in Iraq. They have attacked civilians from these communities with suicide bombs, car bombs and roadside bombs and have committed murders and summary executions. Massive bombs have killed hundreds of civilians in mosques and churches, at funerals and in markets.

Some armed groups have justified their attacks with the argument that these communities collaborated with the U.S.-led coalition to overthrow the Saddam Hussein government, to occupy Iraq and to dominate the new Iraqi government. The Kurdish force in particular, the peshmerga, fought alongside U.S. forces in Iraq’s north in 2003, and has remained a close ally of the United States. Shi`a are dominating the current Iraqi government—a position of power previously held by the minority Sunni population during and before Saddam Hussein—and the militia of a principal Shi`a political party, the Iran-trained Badr Organization, is powerful in Iraq’s new police force.

Christians have repeatedly come under attack because they are viewed as supportive of the U.S. invasion, and many have taken jobs with the occupation authorities and various U.S. government entities. Insurgents may also have attacked Iraqi Christians as surrogates for the Christian West.

The attacks may also be motivated by the historical animosities between these ethnic and religious groups, and their struggle for power in post-Saddam Iraq.

Attacks on Shi`a Muslims

In terms of casualties, the religious or ethnic group most targeted by insurgents in Iraq is Shi`a Muslims, who comprise roughly 60 percent of Iraq’s population. Since 2003, some insurgent groups have repeatedly targeted Shi`a religious sites packed with civilians, senior clerics and political leaders, as well as neighborhoods where Shi`a Muslims live.

As stated above, the attacks are primarily motivated by a belief that Shi`a political and religious groups welcomed and cooperated with the U.S. invasion to overthrow the Iraqi government, long dominated by Sunni Arabs. In addition, the Shi`a are dominating the current Iraqi government and security forces, provoking concerns that Sunnis will be marginalized in the new Iraq. To the extreme Islamist groups like al-Qaeda in Iraq, which has claimed responsibility for some of the most deadly attacks, Shi`a Muslims are apostates and heretics who have betrayed Islam.

On September 14, 2005, for example, al-Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility for a string of car bombs and suicide bomb attacks across Shi`a areas of Baghdad that killed nearly 150 people. In one case, a bomber lured men around his car with promises of work before blowing himself up and killing at least 112.92

In an audiotape posted to the Internet that day, a voice believed to belong to Abu Mus`ab al-Zarqawi declared “all-out war” on Iraq’s Shi`a population. “The al-Qaeda Organization in the Land of Two Rivers is declaring all-out war on the Rafidha [a pejorative term for Shi`a], wherever they are in Iraq,” the voice said. He continued: “Any religious group that wants to be safe from the blows of the mujahedeen must (disavow) the government of Ja`fari and its crimes. Otherwise it will suffer the same fate as that of the crusaders.”93

Iraqi and U.S. officials have blamed many other attacks on al-Qaeda in Iraq. By attacking Shi`a leaders and religious sites, these officials and many analysts believe, al-Zarqawi hopes to spark a civil war between Shi`a and Sunni Muslims.94

The first major attack on a Shi`a site occurred on August 29, 2003, when two massive car bombs exploded outside the Shrine of Imam `Ali Mosque in al-Najaf, the most holy Shi`a Muslim site. More than eighty-five people died, including the influential Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, head of SCIRI, who was being driven from the mosque after Friday prayers. “There was a huge blast, and I was flung to the ground,” one witness said. “I saw parts of bodies all around me. There was dust everywhere.”95

According to the Iraqi police, the attackers planted 1,550 pounds of explosives in two cars.96 The police arrested four men, two Iraqis and two Saudis, all four with connections to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, an Iraqi police official said.97

It remains unclear who staged the attack. Sayyid `Abd al-`Aziz al-Hakim, the brother of Ayatollah Baqir al-Hakim and his successor as head of SCIRI, blamedelements loyal to Saddam Hussein.98 The CPA and U.S. military said it had intelligence and other evidence linking al-Zarqawi to the bombing, but they did not provide details.99 On January 15, 2005, Iraqi authorities arrested Sami Muhammad `Ali Sa`id al-Jaaf, also known as Abu `Umar al-Kurdi, who they claimed was a top lieutenant in al-Qaeda. According to an Iraqi government statement, al-Jaaf confessed to preparing thirty-two car bombs, including the bomb in al-Najaf that killed Ayatollah al-Hakim.100

For the past two years, deadly attacks have marred the Shi`a holy day of `Ashura’, which marks the seventh century death in battle of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Hussain. On March 2, 2004, bombs at Shi`a shrines in Karbala and Baghdad killed more than 181 people and wounded 573. On February 18 and 19, 2005, despite heightened security, attacks during the holy day in Baghdad killed more than seventy people.

In the 2004 attacks, coordinated blasts with suicide bombers and planted explosives hit shrines in Karbala and Baghdad as pilgrims from Iraq and abroad converged for the holy day. In Karbala, five bombs detonated after 10 a.m. near two important shrines. “We were standing there when we heard an explosion,” one witness said. “We saw flesh, arms, legs, more flesh. Then the ambulance came.”101 Around the same time, three suicide bombers detonated their explosives in and around the al-Kadhimiyya shrine in Baghdad killing fifty-eight. A fourth bomber was captured after his explosives failed to detonate.102

No one claimed responsibility for these attacks. U.S. officials and Iraqi leaders blamed al-Zarqawi, but they did not provide evidence to support the claim.103

One year later, in Baghdad, a suicide bomber detonated explosives inside the al-Kadhimiyya shrine as worshippers knelt in prayer, killing seventeen people. Shortly thereafter, two suicide bombers exploded at the `Ali al-Bayya’ Mosque in western Baghdad as people were leaving the Friday prayers.In a third incident, a suicide bomber killed at least two more Shi`a Muslims.104

Some Sunni Arab leaders condemned the attacks, including the Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars. “The shedding of the blood of any Iraqi citizen during this delicate stage will contribute to achieving the occupation’s goals,” an Association spokesman said at a press conference called to condemn the attacks. “Namely, igniting sectarian sedition among the components of the Iraqi people to facilitate or guarantee their stay in Iraq.”105

Three weeks later, on March 10, 2005, an explosion ripped through the funeral of a respected Shi`a professor in Mosul, killing more than forty-seven people, some of them Kurds and Turkomans. According to witnesses, a suicide bomber detonated himself in a hall next to the al-Sadrin Mosque in the al-Ta’mim neighborhood where the funeral service was being held. “As we were inside the mosque, we saw a ball of fire and heard a huge explosion,” one witness said. “After that blood and pieces of flesh were scattered around the place.”106

Insurgent groups also have targeted individuals active in Shi`a parties and organizations. On February 9, 2005, gunmen shot and killed `Abd al-Hussain Khaz`al, aged forty, who was an official of the al-Da`wa political party, a spokesman of the Basra city council, director of a local newspaper and a journalist for the U.S.-funded al-Hurra Television. Witnesses told the press that gunmen converged on Khaz`al as he sat in his pickup with his three-year-old son Muhammad outside their Basra home, shooting at them at least thirteen times.107 Al-Hurra (“The Free”) began operations in early 2004 with U.S. government funds in an attempt to counter the Arabic-language television stations al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya.

According to Agence France-Presse, a group called the Imam al-Hassan al-Basri Brigades108 claimed responsibility for the killing in a statement on an Islamic website. The previously unknown group said it had “liquidated the apostate agent.” They accused Khaz`al of being a member of the “criminal traitor Badr Brigade,” the militia of SCIRI. “The slain agent will not be the last, but this is one of the filthy heads of agents to be cut by the mujahedeen,” the statement reportedly said.109

In May 2005, unknown armed men shot and killed at least three Shi`a clerics in and around Baghdad. On May 15, gunmen killed Qassim al-Gharawi, an aide to Grand Ayatollah `Ali al-Sistani, and his nephew in a drive-by shooting in Baghdad. Two days later, gunmen killed the cleric Muwaffaq al-Hussaini. On May 18, gunmen killed the cleric Muhammad Tahir al-`Allaq while he drove to the city of Kut.110

Attacks on Shi`a neighborhoods have continued unabated since the current Iraqi government was named on April 28, 2005. On May 23, for example, unknown insurgents carried out three major car bomb attacks in Shi`a areas, killing at least thirty-three people and wounding 120. According to press reports, the deadliest attack came from a pair of suicide car bombers who tried to kill a local Shi`a leader in the northern city of Tal Afar, fifty miles west of Mosul, but instead killed at least fifteen people and wounded twenty. Other bombs exploded that day at a popular Baghdad restaurant near the predominantly Shi`a Sadr City in Baghdad and outside a Shi`a mosque in Mahmudiyya.111

On the evening of June 10, a car bomb exploded near the Nur marketplace in the al-Shula district of Baghdad, a predominantly Shi`a area, killing ten people and wounding twenty-eight. Seven men, three women and a child reportedly died in the blast. No one claimed responsibility for the attack.112

Attacks on Kurds

Since April 2003, various insurgent groups have attacked Kurdish civilians and civilian sites in the north, and sometimes in Baghdad. Some insurgent groups have used improvised explosive devices (roadside bombs), car bombs and gunmen to kill Kurdish politicians and journalists. On February 1, 2004, twin suicide bombs exploded at the Arbil offices of the two main Kurdish political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), killing ninety-nine people who had gathered to mark the first day of Eid al-Adha.

Iraqi governments in Baghdad have long persecuted the Kurds with discriminatory laws, forced displacement and the genocidal Anfal campaign in 1988, which resulted in an estimated 100,000 Kurdish deaths.113 Comprising 15-20 percent of the population, Iraqi Kurds are mostly pushing for an autonomous federal state in the three northern provinces they control, if not independence outright. The main political forces welcomed the U.S.-led invasion, and have cooperated closely with the U.S. government in the hope they will achieve their goals.

Various armed groups make no secret of their desire to attack Kurds, whom they consider collaborators with the United States and the “allies of Jews and Christians.”114 Most prominent among them is Ansar al-Islam fi Kurdistan (Supporters of Islam in Kurdistan), a Sunni Kurdish group espousing an ultra-orthodox Islamic ideology that began fighting the two principal secular Kurdish parties in 2001.115 U.S. forces destroyed the group’s bases in the villages of Biyara and Tawila near the Iranian border during the 2003 air war on Iraq, killing some members and forcing others to disperse. But senior Kurdish police and intelligence officials told Human Rights Watch that Ansar al-Islam subsequently either merged, or is cooperating closely, with Ansar al-Sunna, which has also claimed responsibility for many attacks on Kurdish civilians, as well as the executions of captured security forces. Most attacks on Kurds in the past two years have been attributed to Ansar al-Sunna rather than Ansar al-Islam.

In the eyes of these groups, the secular Kurdish parties are allies of the enemy forces that occupied Iraq, and they are now trying to secede from Iraq. The Kurdish peshmerga fought alongside the U.S. from northern positions in 2003, and the two main Kurdish political parties are close allies of the United States. While peshmerga fighters are part of an armed force and are therefore legitimate military targets, attacks against Kurdish civilians, including politicians, are illegal under international humanitarian law. Civilians may not be attacked because their ethnic group or leadership is considered allied with the enemy force.

The most deadly attack came on February 1, 2004, when two suicide bombers detonated their explosives almost simultaneously at the Arbil offices of the two main Kurdish political parties—the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). Although both of the parties have security forces, neither of the offices targeted served a military function. In addition, the attacks were timed to inflict the most possible damage on civilians.

The bombs exploded during celebrations of the Muslim festival Eid al-Adha, when local politicians and party members traditionally receive the citizens of Arbil to wish each other “Eid Mubarak”—Happy Eid. A video of the PUK event viewed by Human Rights Watch showed civilian party officials shaking hands with local citizens in a crowded auditorium until a bomb exploded and chaos ensued. In total, the two bombs killed ninety-nine people and wounded 246.

One of the wounded was Zanyar Muhammad Qadir, a KDP member and civilian employee in the party’s Organizations Unit, whose left leg was broken (see photos). He told Human Rights Watch what happened that day:

Text Box: An employee of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, Zanyar Muhammad Qadir, broke his leg when a suicide bomb exploded in the party offices in Arbil on February 1, 2004, killing fifty-one. A second bomb at the same time at the offices of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan killed forty-eight.
© 2005 Human Rights Watch

So many people came because the party members cannot go to see all the people, so they come here. Politicians and party members were also in the hall. They were standing to receive people. They made a plan to see people, for example, the lawyers at 10:00 a.m., the engineers at 10:30, and so on. This was a little different from the other Eids. Everyone was happy that day. It wasn’t like previous Eids. We received many people. At the last moment, a friend asked me what time it was. I said 10:30 a.m. Harry Schute, the former head of U.S. forces in the north, came. He was standing near Sami Abdul Rahman, the deputy prime minister, who was killed with his son. I gave Schute my place. When he left, Sami Abdul Rahman was still standing. I was talking to him. At that moment, a sergeant in the security called to me. I heard a very loud sound, and I saw a huge fire around the hall. I fell to the ground. I felt something hit my shoulder, and when I looked I saw Sami Abdul Rahman. He was alive but breathing his last breaths. The ceiling collapsed on our heads. I saw three bodies in front of me burning. Sami Abdul Rahman’s bodyguards carried him out. I tried to stand but I couldn’t. I tried to walk but I saw pieces of flesh on the floor. I saw that and cried, but I couldn’t hear my voice. I couldn’t hear anything for four or five minutes. The bodies were still burning. I looked at the people. One of them was Shawkat Shaikh Yazdin, a minister for cabinet affairs. Next to him was the chief Mamosta Sa`ad `Abdullah, who had been minister of agriculture, but at the time was head of the KDP’s Second Branch in Arbil. On the other side was Akram Mantiq, who was the governor of Arbil. One of their heads was blown apart. I looked around and I saw all of my friends who had died, and I couldn’t believe it—as if it was play. I cried and cried, but after a while a friend came and carried me out.116

Qadir was taken to the hospital, which was filling with the wounded and dead. Fifty-one people died in the KDP attack, the party said, and 121 were wounded. The doctors were overwhelmed. He was forced to bandage his leg by himself, using a rifle piece as a splint. Doctors eventually found two pieces of shrapnel in his leg and eight more in other parts of his body. After five operations, the leg is slowly healing, although he is awaiting a bone graft.

The PUK office suffered similar devastation and death, with forty-eight people killed and 125 wounded. `Adnan Mufti, a Politburo member of the PUK and the party’s head in Arbil, suffered a broken leg and took shrapnel to the face and neck. He told Human Rights Watch how the bomb exploded, killing four of his bodyguards, twelve members of the PUK leadership in Arbil and dozens of civilians:

Nobody thought something like that could happen. We feared only a car bomb outside, and we took precautions for that. But the technical skill of those terrorists was high. It was the first time, I think, that there was a suicide bombing in Iraq…Just before 11:00 a.m., I heard a huge explosion and I saw fire. It was like thunder. I lost my mind for a few seconds and then I found myself on the ground. I couldn’t turn back to look. My leg was broken. I tried to straighten my leg but I didn’t know what had happened to my head. I saw bodies on the ground, but I didn’t know if they were dead or alive. Friends took me to the hospital. I was bleeding from the mouth. I thought I had internal bleeding, but I found out later that it was from shrapnel in my mouth and neck. One piece near my mouth went through and broke two teeth. One tooth broke and the piece embedded itself in my tongue. The shrapnel in my neck, one millimeter from my vocal cords, went in one side and out the other. For about two months, I could barely speak. In my right leg were five or six pieces of shrapnel. Three of them are still there. I’ve had two operations on my leg. I also lost my hearing in the right ear but I’m okay now after an operation.117

In a statement posted to a website on February 4, Ansar al-Sunna claimed responsibility for the twin attacks. “Two of our martyrs, may God accept them, raided two dens of the devils in the city of Arbil in north Iraq,” the statement said. “And with this, our happiness over Eid al-Adha merged with our happiness in striking the allies of Jews and Christians.”118

Ansar al-Sunna claimed responsibility for other attacks in Arbil in 2004 and 2005, usually against Kurdish political figures and police. On June 26, 2004, a car bomb targeted the Kurdish Minister of Culture, Mahmud Muhammad, lightly wounding the minister, killing the owner of a garage across the street, and wounding seventeen others.119 In an interview with Kurdistan TV that same day, Muhammad said the bomb exploded as he was outside his home on the way to work. “Regrettably some of the bodyguards were injured,” he said. “I am fine.”120

Human Rights Watch interviewed two witnesses to the attack. According to Sulaiman Siddiq, who owns a metal shop next to the garage across the street, the bomb detonated around 8:10 a.m. “It was a very big explosion,” he said. “All the glass in my shop broke. I saw a fire and an old man, a mechanic, near my shop was killed.121

Text Box: Sayyid `Ali Nuri, a father of five, was killed when a car bomb intended for a Kurdish official exploded across the street from his garage in Arbil on June 26, 2004.
© 2005 Human Rights Watch

The victim was Sayyid `Ali Nuri, aged fifty and a father of five, who owned the small garage across from the college, approximately sixty meters from where the bomb went off (see photo). According to the metal shop owner Siddiq, Nuri was taken to the hospital but he died on the way.

Another witness, Muhammad Wirya Baha’ al-Din, was meeting the director of Ishlik College when the bomb exploded. He took two men to the hospital with head wounds, he said:

My back was to the windows, and the explosion blew open the windows and shattered the glass on my back. The force threw me across the room. I took two people to the hospital, two workers. Both of them were outside and had head injuries.122

Ansar al-Sunna did not claim responsibility for the attack, but Kurdish security officials told Human Rights Watch that they had arrested a twenty-two-year-old Kurdish man from the group for taking part in the attack.123

On September 19, 2004, Ansar al-Sunna announced that it had captured and killed three members of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, and a video on the group’s website showed three men getting beheaded. “The puppet Kurdish groups... have pledged allegiance to the crusaders and continue to fight Islam and its people,” a statement with the video said.124 The group also said the killings were “for us to revenge our women, children and elderly who die daily from American raids.”125

On December 12, 2004, a car bomb exploded at 1:00 p.m. near the al-Khadija Mosque in Arbil as KDP official Amin Najjar was driving by. Najjar was unhurt but the bomb wounded two others.126 “The mujahideen managed to blow up a rigged car in Arbil against one of the officials of the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) led by Masud Barzani, but the man was not killed,” a statement posted on the Ansar al-Sunna website said.127 Kurdish officials arrested a twenty-one-year-old Kurdish man who they claimed had driven the explosives-laden car.128

On April 28, 2005, unknown gunmen in Mosul shot and killed Sayyid Talib Sayyid Wahhab, a KDP official. Three days later, a bomb-laden car rammed into his funeral in Tal Afar, killing at least twenty-five people and wounding more than fifty.129 It is not known who staged the attack.

On May 4, a suicide bomber slipped into a line of young men waiting to sign up for the police in Arbil and detonated his explosives, killing forty-six people and wounding an estimated 150.130 “The scene was like a slaughterhouse, with body parts everywhere, heads, hands, eyes. It was terrible,” one survivor told the press.131 Ansar al-Sunna soon posted a statement on the Internet. “This operation is in response to our brothers who are being tortured in your prisons... and in response to the infidel peshmerga forces which surrendered themselves to the Crusaders and became a thorn in the side of Muslims,” it said.132

Attacks on Christians

Iraq’s ancient Christian community, comprised of Chaldean Catholics, Assyrians, Roman and Syriac Catholics, Greek, Syriac and Armenian Orthodox, Anglicans and others, comprises roughly 3 percent of the country’s population, or about 800,000 people. Mostly concentrated in and around Baghdad, Mosul, Kirkuk and Arbil, Christians are generally in the professional class and are considered wealthier than the average Iraqi. In the eyes of some insurgent groups, Christians supported the U.S.-led invasion, and many members of the community subsequently took jobs with the CPA or U.S. government.

Especially in 2004, violence against Christians by insurgent groups was consistent and intense. As of March 2005, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians had fled the country, mostly for Syria and Jordan. And thousands left their homes for the relative safety of the Kurdish-controlled north. Human Rights Watch interviewed eight of these families in January and February 2005, most of them from Mosul and Baghdad. They had left their homes, they said, after threats, abductions and attacks. In some cases, family members had been killed. In addition, religious extremists have threatened and attacked Christians for not living by strict Islamic codes. Armed groups have threatened Christian women who did not cover their heads and killed Christian vendors who sell alcohol.133

One of the first reported attacks against Christians occurred in Baghdad in March 2004, when gunmen shot and killed `Aziz and Ranin Ra`d Azzu, aged five and fourteen respectively, apparently because their father sold alcohol. The family reportedly had received a death threat before the murders. “We are warning you, the enemies of God and Islam, from selling alcohol again, and unless you stop we will kill you and send you to hell where a worse fate awaits you,” the warning reportedly said, signed by Harakat Ansar al-Islam (Supporters of Islam Movement.)134

The most public and coordinated attacks took place on Sunday, August 1, 2004, when insurgents detonated car bombs at five churches, four in Baghdad and one in Mosul, killing eleven people and wounding more than forty. The attacks sparked an exodus of Christians to Syria, Jordan and the Kurdish-controlled north.

A Christian woman from Baghdad living near Arbil displays her crucifix tattoo.
Like hundreds of Christians from the capital, she and her family fled to northern
Iraq for safety from threats and attacks.
© 2005 Human Rights Watch

The first bomb exploded around 6:00 p.m. as mass was starting at an Armenian Orthodox church Our Lady of the Flowers in Baghdad’s al-Karrada neighborhood. Less than half an hour later, a second bomb exploded at the nearby Assyrian church Our Lady of Salvation, followed by blasts at a church in the al-Dora neighborhood and another in Bagdhad al-Jadida.

A woman named Payman was leaving the church in al-Dura, Church of the Two Messengers, when a bomb exploded. In Kurdish-controlled Iraq, where she had fled with her family after the attack, she told Human Rights Watch that the church was crowded, with between 100 and 200 worshippers, when the bomb went off:

The church itself was not damaged because the explosion was from the parking lot in the back. Only some windows broke. There was one of the poor people who gets donations. He died. We had given him money and we later saw him lying on the ground. An engaged couple was there giving out their wedding invitations in the church, and both of them died.135

Human Rights Watch spoke separately with another woman who was present at the church during the attack. She said:

I was just leaving the church going outside when I heard a big explosion. I didn’t know what happened; I just saw a lot of smoke… There was a lot of confusion and chaos and people didn’t know what had happened. But people were running around and some of them were wounded. The people in the back died. And then the ambulances arrived.136

The day after the attacks, a previously unknown group calling itself the “Committee of Planning and Follow-up in Iraq” reportedly claimed responsibility on a website, saying “you wanted a crusade, and these are its results.” Human Rights Watch did not see the original statement in Arabic but, based on a translation into English by an Assyrian Christian group, the statement read:

A Declaration from the Committee of Planning and Follow-Up in Iraq

In the name of God the most merciful,

Thanks be to God the supporter of his faithful, prayers and peace be upon him, who was sent with the sword at these times as a mercy for human beings. He who believes in him and upholds his methods will gain paradise and he who denies him and sways away from his methods will be lost forever.

O! Muslims wherever you live...

The war today in Iraq and Afghanistan is undoubtedly something that two Muslims wouldn’t argue about, that it’s a hateful Crusades war targeting Islam and Muslims and that the United States and its allies137 didn’t ever delay or spare an effort to fight God’s religion with all the power that they have and with the blessing of the (Pope) before whom the leaders of America stand like slaves.

O! Believers in one God...

America didn’t only occupy and invade militarily the Islamic lands but they also founded hundreds of Christianizing establishments, printing false deviated books and distributing them amongst the Muslims in an effort to strip them away of their religion and Christianize them. The Crusaders are one nation even if they differed in their ideas.

The American forces and their intelligence systems have found a safe haven and refuge amongst their brethren the grandchildren of monkeys and swine in Iraq.

The graceful God has enabled us on Sunday, August 1, 2004, to aim several painful blows at their dens, the dens of wickedness, corruption and Christianizing. Your striving brethren were able to blow up four cars aimed at the churches in Karrada, Baghdad Jadida and Dora while another group of mujahedeen hit the churches in Mosul.

As we announce our responsibility for the bombings we tell you, the people of the crosses: return to your senses and be aware that God’s soldiers are ready for you. You wanted a Crusade and these are its results. God is great and glory be to God and his messenger. He who has warned is excused.

Prayers and peace be upon our prophet Muhammad, his kin and companions.

The Committee of Planning and Follow-Up in Iraq

14/Jamadi I/1425—August 1, 2004

International Islamic Information Center138

Three days later, another group used the Internet to deny that Islamic militants had committed the attacks. A statement signed by the “Media Center for Mujahedeen” said that “if the mujahedeen had wanted to target those churches, they would have made them disappear from the face of earth and nobody would have come out alive.” Christians in Iraq would not be harmed, the statement said, so long as they respected three rules: do not “collaborate with the occupation,” do not “betray Muslims,” and do not attack Islam or try to convert Muslims. At the top of the statement were the names of three previously unknown groups, identified in English as: the Jihad Battalions, the Islamic Army Brigades and the Shura Council of Jihad. The statement did not present a definition of collaboration or betrayal.139

Muslim political and religious leaders, as well as the Iraqi Interim Government, roundly condemned the attacks. Iraq’s most senior Shi`a Muslim cleric, Grand Ayatollah `Ali al-Hussaini al-Sistani, called the attacks “criminal acts” that targeted Iraq’s “unity, stability and independence.”140 The Association of Muslim Scholars said the bombings were “totally remote from any religious or humanitarian norms.”141

Insurgent groups bombed two more churches on November 9, 2004, the day U.S. Marines began their second major offensive on the city of al-Falluja. Around 6:30 p.m., a car bomb exploded near St. George’s Church in southern Baghdad, causing no casualties. About five minutes later, another car bomb detonated less than one mile away at St. Matthew’s Church, killing three people and wounding more than twenty-five. A Christian man who lived near the two churches explained to Human Rights Watch how he was wounded in the second attack:

We were home, and I heard an explosion from a distance. We went up to the roof to see what it was when something exploded nearby. The explosion came, and rubble fell on our heads. Something cut my left arm, and I started bleeding. All our windows broke, and the front door too… My neighbor cut his head, and another person got glass in his neck.142

Four or five days later, the man said, he and his wife blocked their front door with stones—because the explosions had destroyed the metal door—and set out for the Kurdish-controlled north. “We came out of fear,” he said. “I don’t want to give any personal details because one day I will hopefully go back. I don’t want any problems.”

This man joined a growing Christian community in the Kurdish zone. Although total numbers are not known, hundreds of Christians have settled temporarily in and around Arbil, Sulaimaniya and Dohuk. According to the mukhtar (local community representative) of `Ain Kawa, a largely Christian village near Arbil, approximately one hundred Christian families have come to `Ain Kawa in the past year, mostly from Mosul.143 A priest in Sulaimaniyya who did not wish to be named said thirty-one families had come to Sulaimaniyya, Koisanjaq and a nearby Christian village called Armouta.144 He showed Human Rights Watch a pile of requests from other Christian families in places like Baghdad, Basra and al-Falluja, asking the church for help to relocate in the Kurdish region (see photo).145

“I came because of fear for my daughter, who got sick from being scared,” said Payman, a mother of three who was in the Church of the Two Messengers when the bomb exploded. “She was afraid to sleep alone at night. Then she got herpes.” She continued: “My two nieces worked as cleaners at the Convention Center [in Baghdad]. They were threatened and quit. Three other girls, also Christians, worked there too. They were killed and my nieces saw it. They came home hysterical.”146

A priest in Sulaimaniya reviews letters from Christians all over Iraq
seeking help in relocating to the Kurdish-controlled north to escape threats and attacks.
© 2005 Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch interviewed three other Christian families who had lost a family member to violence by an insurgent group. One victim was Ra`d Nisam, a twenty-three-year-old father of three, who was killed by unknown gunmen on September 26, 2004, near his home in the al-Dora neighborhood of Baghdad, although it is not certain that he was attacked because of his religion. According to a family member, Nisam worked at the Hunting Club in Baghdad, where he had been a manual laborer for more than six years. He and his co-workers, all of them Christians, were driving home from work just after midnight when gunmen sprayed their car with bullets, wounding two and killing three, including the Muslim driver. The family member told Human Rights Watch:

I ran towards the car and I saw them there. The driver was a Muslim and he was also killed… After I saw the scene before me I don’t remember anything else. You can imagine the state I was in. All I learned afterwards is that the shooters wore masks but it was dark and we don’t know who is responsible.147

[92] Robert F. Worth and Richard A. Oppel Jr., “Multiple Attacks Kill Nearly 150 in Iraqi Capital,” New York Times, September 15, 2005.

[93] “Zarqawi Declares War on Iraq Shiites, Threatens Other Groups,” Agence France-Presse, September 14, 2004.

[94] In February 2004, the U.S. government released a letter it claims to have intercepted from Abu Mus`ab al-Zarqawi to Osama bin Ladan, in which al-Zarqawi talks of provoking Shi`a Muslims into attacking Sunnis, and thereby starting a civil war. Shi`a Muslims are “the lurking snake, the crafty and malicious scorpion, the spying enemy and the penetrating venom,” al-Zarqawi wrote, according to the U.S. translation. He added, “If we succeed in dragging them into the arena of sectarian war, it will become possible to awaken the inattentive Sunnis as they feel imminent danger and annihilating death at the hands of these Sabeans.” See February 2004 Coalition Provisional Authority English translation of Abu Mus`ab al-Zarqawi letter obtained by United States Government in Iraq, available at, as of June 12, 2005. According to Anthony H. Cordesman, an insurgency expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C., car bombings and suicide bombings by radical Islamist groups are “deliberately designed to provoke something approaching civil war.” See “Cordesman: Crucial to Bring Sunnis Into Government and Give Iraqis More Control Over Aid Money,” Interview with Council on Foreign Relations, June 30, 2005, available at, as of July 20, 2005.

[95] Vivienne Walt and Thanassis Cambanis, “Car Bomb Kills 85 at Shrine in Iraq Top Shi’ite Cleric Dies; No Claim of Responsibility,” Boston Globe, August 30, 2003.

[96]Tarek al-Issawi, “Iraqi Police Make Arrests in Najaf Bombing, Claim Two are Saudis, Four Have al-Qaeda Ties,” Associated Press, August 30, 2003.

[97] Tarek al-Issawi, “Police Investigator Says Four Arrested in Najaf Bombing, All Have Ties to al-Qaeda,” Associated Press, August 30, 2003.

[98] BBC Monitoring Middle East, “Iraqi Shi`a Leader Al-Hakim Says Iraqis Responsible for Iraq’s Security,” al-Zaman, September 23, 2003.

[99] Coalition Provisional Authority Briefing With Daniel Senor and Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, Baghdad, Iraq, February 12, 2004.

[100] Bassem Mroue, “Iraq Forces Arrest Top al-Qaida Lieutenant,” Associated Press, January 24, 2005.

[101] Tarek al-Issawi, “Explosions Rock Shrines in Iraqi Cities,” Associated Press, March 2, 2004.

[102] Hamza Hendawi, “Suicide Bombers Kill at Least 143 People in Attacks on Shiite Shrines in Iraq; U.S. Blames Militant Seeking to Spark Civil War,” Associated Press, March 2, 2004.

[103]“US Says Jordanian Militant Prime Suspect In Iraqi Blasts,” Associated Press, March 2, 2004.

[104]“Blasts Outside Baghdad Mosques Kill at Least 27,” Associated Press, February 18, 2005, and “Forty Dead in Iraq Violence,” Agence France-Presse, February 18, 2005.

[105]Al-Sharqiyah Television, February 20, 2005.

[106] “Many Killed in Mosul Funeral Blast,”, March 11, 2005,, accessed March 28, 2005, and Robert F. Worth and Edward Wong, “Bombing at Shiite Mosque in Mosul Leaves 40 Dead,” New York Times, March 11, 2005.

[107] Steve Fainaru, “Reporter, Son Among 6 Iraqis Slain; 4 U.S. Soldiers Killed,” Washington Post, February 10, 2005, and Rory McCarthy, “Iraqi Journalist and Son, 3, Shot Dead in Basra,” The Guardian, February 10, 2005, and Alhurra press release, “Alhurra Establishes Memorial Fund for Slain Correspondent,” February 11, 2005.

[108] Imam al-Hassan al-Basri is known from the early days of Islam for his strict observance of the Prophet Mohammad’s teachings.

[109] “Militant Group Claims Killing of Iraq Journalist,” Agence France-Presse, February 9, 2005.

[110]“Killings of Iraqi Officials Since Elected Government Was Announced April 28,” Associated Press, May 23, 2005 and Alexandra Zavis, “Iraqi Police Find 38 Bodies Dumped in Three Parts of Iraq in Less Than 24 Hours,” Associated Press, May 15, 2005.

[111] Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Sabrina Tavernise, “Car Bombing in Iraq Kill 33, With Shiites as Targets,” New York Times, May 24, 2005, and Patrick Quinn, “Car Bombings Across Iraq Kill Dozens,” Associated Press, May 23, 2005.

[112] “10 Killed, 28 Wounded in Baghdad Bombing,” Agence France-Presse, June 10, 2005, and “Eighteen Killed in Baghdad Attacks,” Sunday Telegraph, June 12, 2005.

[113]See Human Rights Watch reports: Genocide in Iraq: The Anfal Campaign Against the Kurds, July 1993; Iraq’s Crime of Genocide: The Anfal Campaign Against the Kurds, May 1994; Iraq: Forcible Expulsions of Ethnic Minorities, March 2003; and Claims in Conflict: Reversing Ethnic Cleansing in Iraq, August 2004.

[114] Jennie Matthew, “Arbil Bombings Claimed by Group Linked to Al-Qaeda,” Agence France-Presse, February 5, 2004.

[115] See Human Rights Watch Backgrounder, Ansar al-Islam in Iraqi Kurdistan, available at

[116] Human Rights Watch interview with Zanyar Muhammad Qadir, Arbil, Iraq, January 26, 2005.

[117] Human Rights Watch interview with `Adnan Mufti, Arbil, Iraq, January 26, 2005.

[118] “Police Say No Yememi Arrested in Iraqi Bomb Probe,” Reuters, February 5, 2004, and Jennie Matthew, “Arbil Bombings Claimed by Group Linked to Al-Qaeda,” Agence France-Presse, February 5, 2004.

[119] “Car Bomb Kills One, Wounds 18 in Iraqi Kurdistan,” Agence France-Presse, June 26, 2004, and Andrew Marshall, “Militants Threaten to Kill 3 Turkish Hostages in Iraq,” Reuters, June 26, 2004.

[120] “Iraq: Injured Kurdish minister says attacks make Kurds more determined,” BBC Monitoring Middle East, Iraqi Kurdistan Democratic Party Satellite TV, June 26, 2004.

[121] Human Rights Watch interview with Sulaiman Siddiq, Arbil, Iraq, February 7, 2005.

[122] Human Rights Watch interview with Muhammad Wirya Baha’ al-Din, Arbil, Iraq, February 7, 2005.

[123] Human Rights Watch interview with Kurdish security official, Arbil, February 7, 2005.

[124] “Iraqi Groups Shows Tape of Beheading of Three Kurds,” Reuters, September 19, 2004.

[125] “Video Shows Beheading of Three Iraq Hostages,” Associated Press, September 19, 2004.

[126] “Iraqi ‘Ansar al-Sunna’ Group Claims Arbil Attack,” Reuters, December 13, 2004, “Iraq Car Bomb Wounds Two in Kurdish City,” Agence France-Presse, December 12, 2004, and “Iraq: Car Bomb in Arbil Results in No Casualties,” BBC Monitoring Middle East, “Failed Terrorist Attempt in the Regional Capital,” Khabat, December 13, 2004.

[127] “Iraqi ‘Ansar al-Sunna’ Group Claims Arbil Attack,” Reuters, December 13, 2004.

[128] Human Rights Watch interview with Kurdish security official, Arbil, February 7, 2005.

[129] “Car Bomb Targets Funeral in Iraq, Killing Many Mourners,” Associated Press, May 1, 2005, Lutfi Abu Oun, “Bomb Kills 20 at Iraq Funeral—Australian Abducted,” Reuters, May 1, 2005, and Ashraf Khalil, “Bomb Attacks Persist in Iraq,” Los Angeles Times, May 2, 2005.

[130] “Suicide Bomber Killers 45 in Northern Iraq City,” Agence France-Presse, May 4, 2005.

[131] Rory Carroll and Michael Howard, “They Were Lining Up To Join Iraq’s Police—But in the Queue Was a Suicide Bomber,” The Guardian, May 5, 2005.

[132] “Iraq’s Ansar al-Sunna Claims Arbil Bombing—Web,” Reuters, May 4, 2005.

[133] According to one Assyrian Christian group, some Christian families got letters from the Islamic Troops of Badr in Najaf that threatened kidnappings and death if female family members did not wear veils. For English and Arabic versions of the letter, see, accessed June 7, 2005.

[134]Annia Ciezadlo, “Iraq’s Christians Consider Fleeing as Attacks on Them Rise,” Christian Science Monitor, July 13, 2004. See also Yochi J. Dreazen, “Iraq Sees Christian Exodus,” Wall Street Journal, September 27, 2004.

[135]Human Rights Watch interview with Payman, ‘Ain Kawa, Iraq, January 29, 2005. The interviewee did not wish to provide her family name.

[136]Human Rights Watch interview with anonymous witness, ‘Ain Kawa, January 29, 2005.

[137]According to the translators, the Arabic version has the word “tails” instead of “allies,” which connotes subservience and humiliation.

[138] Translation from the website (accessed February 22, 2005). See also, Salah Nasrawi, “Unknown Group Claims Responsibility for Assaults on Iraqi Churches,” Associated Press, August 2, 2004.

[139] “Islamists Deny Responsibility for Iraqi Church Bombings in Internet Message,” Associated Press, August 5, 2004.

[140] Statement by Grand Ayatollah `Ali al-Hussaini al-Sistani, August 2, 2004. (See, accessed February 24, 2005.)

[141] Alissa J. Rubin, “Muslims and Their Leaders Denounce Church Attacks,” Los Angeles Times, August 3, 2004.

[142] Human Rights Watch interview, ‘Ain Kawa, Iraq, January 29, 2005.

[143] Human Rights Watch interview with Salim Mansur, ‘Ain Kawa, Iraq, January 29, 2005.

[144] Human Rights Watch interview with priest in Sulaimaniyya, Iraq, January 30, 2005.

[145] The Kurdish administrations in Arbil and Sulaimaniyya are providing basic aid to some Christian families who fled to these governorates.

[146] Human Rights Watch interview with Payman, ‘Ain Kawa, Iraq, January 29, 2005.

[147] Human Rights Watch interview with family member, Zakho, Iraq, February 7, 2005.

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