A chilling story from the Washington Post on how Christians in Iraq who work with American forces there are being targeted for murder. The article says nothing about the larger-scale targeting of Iraqi Christians whether they are working for Americans or not, but it is refreshing to see the major media take any notice of this at all:
There was only one window left in the blue Besta minivan parked in Khajik Serkis’s front yard Friday: the windshield, riddled with bullet holes at eye level and spattered with blood. Inside were more holes in the upholstered seats, a carpet of glass shards and a woman’s patterned shawl, crumpled and stained red.
About 6:30 Wednesday morning, Serkis was driving nine women from Baghdad to their jobs washing soldiers’ laundry at a U.S. military base about 30 miles west. It was still dark, and the women were half-asleep, dozing with the rhythm of the road. Some were related; all were friends from the capital’s close-knit minority Christian community.
“I heard shouting and woke up. The woman next to me said her finger was gone,” said Maggie Aziz, 49, whose left ankle was shattered by a bullet. “The driver was praying to God, and bullets were coming at us like rain. I reached to help the woman in the front seat, but she was shot in the mouth and died.”
According to the survivors, the van was attacked by several gunmen in an Opel sedan as they passed through Fallujah, a center of violent Sunni Muslim resistance to the U.S. occupation. They said the gunmen chased the van, shooting continuously as Serkis sped up and tried to evade them. Four women were killed; Serkis and four other women were wounded. In recent weeks, Iraqi insurgents have increasingly shifted the focus of their attacks from American troops to Iraqis cooperating with the occupying force. On Sunday, a car bomb exploded outside the main gate of a U.S. compound in Baghdad as many Iraqis were reporting for work, killing 31 and wounding 120.
In another assault on Iraqi civilians, a bomb exploded Thursday night in an Iraqi Communist Party office here, killing two people, just after a large meeting had ended. Also Thursday, a Muslim woman, Samirah Khalif, 38, a lawyer who worked at another U.S. military base north of the capital, was assaulted and killed by unknown assailants in her home near the base. Relatives at the mourning ceremony in Baghdad on Friday said her house was robbed and burned and that they believed the attackers were retaliating because of her work with the U.S. military.
A U.S. military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, said late Thursday that anti-American forces in Iraq were trying to “send a message of terror to these people: that if you work for the coalition, if you worked alongside and tried to support the coalition, we can reach out and touch you.”
In the quiet, largely Christian neighborhood where Serkis and most of his passengers lived, there was no doubt Friday among survivors and community leaders that the van was targeted by extremist groups that want to drive a wedge between U.S. forces and the Iraqi populace.
Serkis said the attackers wore scarves over their faces and that he and two other van drivers took the same route through Fallujah every day to the base, located in the nearby town of Habbaniya. He said he was on a deserted stretch of road when he saw the Opel parked by the side.
“They started chasing me when I sped up, and when I slowed down to try and get away, they pulled in front and started shooting back,” he said. “They were definitely trying to kill us, and they were aiming at people’s heads.”
Aziz, who lay on a couch in her apartment Friday with her injured leg wrapped in bandages, said that as the men were shooting from the sedan, the attackers and victims could see each other clearly. “We shouted that we were women and pleaded with them to stop, but they didn’t,” she said.
Residents said they were stunned that the attackers would deliberately kill women in a society where women are traditionally respected and sheltered, and the brutal scare tactic already seemed to be working. Relatives said the rest of the 25 women employed in the laundry at the U.S. military base in Habbaniya had quit their jobs Thursday.
“My wife was so happy when she got this job, because we needed the money badly,” said Briesh Kivov Stepan, 59, a disabled veteran of the Iran-Iraq war who is married to Aziz. “The Americans were very good to her, to all of us, but now none of the women want to go back to that base. They’ll have to find men to work in the laundry. It’s too dangerous.”
After the attack, survivors and their relatives encountered hostility in Fallujah, first when they tried to seek medical treatment and later when they went to retrieve the damaged minivan, according to Serkis and other witnesses.
Serkis said that when he reached the hospital there, he lied and said his passengers were teachers he was taking to a school. But when some medical staff learned the truth, he said, “they refused to continue treating us and told us to go to the Jordanian hospital,” located in the capital.
On Thursday, when Serkis’s brother, Shant, drove back to Fallujah to pick up the van at a police station, he said a crowd of people in the streets were “very happy about what had happened. They said it was jihad, and they knew that only Christian people worked in the American bases.”
Residents said that although some Muslims are employed at U.S. bases, most low-wage workers hired by several European contractors in Baghdad are Christian. Several of the dead and injured women, including Aziz, had worked at other U.S. bases before shifting to the Habbaniya location last month.
At gatherings Friday in homes of survivors of the minivan attack, residents from the small Armenian and Assyrian Christian communities said they strongly supported the American mission in Iraq but that they had good long-term relations with Sunni Muslims and other groups.
“We were born and raised here, and our community gets along well with everyone,” Stepan said. “Now my wife is injured and cannot work. Women trying to support their children have been killed. Why would anyone do such a thing? They only want to frighten people and create chaos.”