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Detroit Chaldeans Outraged Over Baghdad Church Attack
By Cecil Angel

Chaldean leaders in metro Detroit expressed outrage today at a weekend terrorist attack in Baghdad on a Chaldean Catholic Church during a service that left dozens dead, including two priests.

They say something has to be done to protect the vulnerable Christian minority in predominantly Muslim Iraq.

"Our community's just so frustrated more than anything else," said Martin Manna, executive director of the Southfield-based Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce. "Security is just terrible. The Iraqi government obviously can't protect their people."

On Sunday, a militant group, the Islamic State of Iraq, which has links to al-Qaida, took credit for storming Our Lady of Salvation Syriac Catholic Church and holding the congregation hostage.

Sunday's bloodbath began at dusk, when a car bomb went off in the area and militants wearing suicide vests and armed with grenades attacked the Iraqi stock exchange.

The car bombing and the attack on the stock exchange, in which only two guards were injured, may have been an attempt by the militants to divert attention from their real target -- the nearby church in an upscale Baghdad neighborhood.

That attack soon followed. The gunmen went inside the church and took about 120 Christians hostage.

The four and a half hour siege ended when Iraqi security forces raided the church to free the congregation.

At least 58 people were killed and 78 wounded in explosions and gun fire during the siege.

"We need to see the intervention of the international community to provide support for these people," said Joseph Kassab, executive director of the Chaldean Federation of America in Southfield, a human services organization whose mission it is to aid refugees. "Our people should not be left alone."

Kassab said he closely followed the church attack and has spoken with people who were inside the church and survived. One young man told him that the terrorists entered during a reading from one of the gospels and shot a priest. The congregation was herded into dark rooms off the sanctuary and later heard "bullets and bombs exploding everywhere."

"They had no way of knowing if they were going to live or die," Kassab said. "One of them said 'Joe it was like a carnage.'"

Saad Attisha, the owner of the New Sahara restaurant chain, said there is no freedom in Iraq. "Everybody's trying to run away to America." Attisha said. "Christian people don't get respect like other people."

He said he fled Baghdad 33 years ago. "I've never been back," Attisha said.

The persecution against Christians in Iraq escalated in 2003 when U. S. forces invaded Iraq after suspecting the country had weapons of mass destruction, Chaldean leaders said. About 7,000 Iraqi refugees are expected to arrive in Michigan this year and next, according to estimates by the state Department of Community Health.

Rev. Anthony Kathawa, of the Mother of God Chaldean Catholic Church in Southfield, said the church is waiting to hear from the bishop in Iraq who oversees Baghdad as to what the congregation needs.

"The only thing they have right now is their faith," Kathawa said. "It's being hindered by these attacks."

Manna said Christians in Iraq don't have their own militias to protect them like other groups in Iraq. He believes that it's important to allow Christians in Iraq to have their own "state within Iraq" to worship as they please.

"Why are the Christians of Iraq bearing the brunt of the war on terror?" Manna said. "The U.S. bears responsibility."


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