Iraqi Christians urge authorities to safeguard relics

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By Wail Matti

Azzaman, February 18, 2013

Iraqi Christians have asked the authorities to preserve their churches and other monuments as excavations reveal that Christianity was the dominant religion in many parts of the country until the Arab Muslim invasion of the seventh century.

Latest digs and earth moving activities to prepare the ground for new projects have brought to surface scores of churches in the southern city of Najaf.

The Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities says it pays the preservation of Christian monuments in the country its “utmost attention.”

“Tourism and Antiquities Minister Liwa Sumaism has visited Najaf for a first-hand view and understanding of its antiquities and is keen to give the protection of Christian monuments his utmost attention,” said the ministry’s head of information Hakem al-Shammari.

Shammari said Iraqi archaeologists had evidence that there were 63 churches in Najaf, a religious city which is holy to Muslim Shiites.

“We have only excavated five of them and 58 more await to be uncovered,” he said.

Christian personalities in Iraq had written to senior Shiite clerics asking for the protection of their ancient sites and complaining about violations aimed at either removing the monuments or having them defaced.

“There are no violations of Christian antiquities as all of them across the country are under the ministry’s protection,” Shammari claimed.

The number of Christians in Iraq is said to have dwindled to less than 250,000 from nearly one million prior to the 2003-U.S. invasion.

They are now mainly concentrated in the Kurdish north but their exodus is continuing, prompting some church leaders to warn that the country may lose its Christian minority in a few years.