Iraqi Christians demonstrate in Stockholm

Hundreds of people gathered in Stockholm on Sunday seeking to highlight attacks on Christians in Iraq, days before a United Nations conference on Iraqi peace and development opens near the city.

Iraqi Christians demonstrate in Stockholm

“Our goal is to draw the attention of the US, the EU and the UN to the ongoing terror, violence and most importantly, the murders of Chaldean, Syriac and Assyrian Christian clerics in Iraq,” Behiye Hadodo, the Swedish representative of the European Syriac Union, told the crowd.

According to police, around 300 people had gathered near the Swedish parliament for Sunday’s demonstration. Organizers said as many as 1,400 people had turned out.

Last month, around 4,000 people marched in Brussels to protest against the persecution of Christians in Iraq.

“A new wave of ethnic cleansing is going on in Iraq. If these atrocities continue, the Chaldean, Syriac and Assyrian communities there will be wiped out altogether, creating a new catastrophe for humanity,” Hadodo cried, drawing chants in Swedish and Arabic from the demonstrators.

Iraq’s Christians, with the Chaldean sect the largest community, were said to total as many as 800,000 before the US-led invasion in 2003 but the number is now thought to be just half that figure.

Widespread persecution including the bombing of churches and the murder of priests has forced hundreds of thousands to flee, mostly to neighbouring countries or to Kurdish northern Iraq.

Sweden is home to nearly half of some 70,000 Christian Iraqis living in Europe, according to the European Syriac Union.

Sunday’s demonstration came four days before the UN is to host an international conference near Stockholm aimed at increasing international involvement in Iraq’s political development.

Hundreds of delegates from around the world, including US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, will attend the conference, which will be the first follow-up meeting since the launch of a five-year International Compact with Iraq (ICI), a peace and development plan agreed in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh a year ago.

“We need to try to make (the delegates) aware of the campaign of atrocities by mainly fundamentalists against our innocent people,” organizer Yusef Bahdi, 32, told AFP, lamenting that churches were being bombed and Christian women were being “forced to veil themselves in accordance with Sharia law.”