Shiite Ayatollah Launches Fatwa: Iraqi Christians, Conversion to Islam or Death

Baghdad -- An Advent of light and shadow for Iraq's Christians, who are celebrating the reopening of the cathedral of Baghdad but at the same time subjected to new - and heavy - threats from a radical Shiite Muslim leader. From studies of a television broadcaster based in Egypt, an Iraqi Ayatollah launches a fatwa against the religious minority on the eve of Christmas: "Conversion to Islam or death."

However, strength of faith overcomes the fear of violence as witnessed by celebrations for the "rebirth" of the Syrian Catholic cathedral in the capital, the scene of a bloody attack at the end of October 2010 (see AsiaNews 31/10/2010 Al Qaeda attack on Baghdad church ends in massacre)

In an interview last December 13 on Egyptian television Al Baghdadia, the Shiite ayatollah Ahmad Al Hassani Al Baghdadi issued a fatwa against Christians in Iraq. Labeling them as "polytheists" and "friends of the Zionists", the extremist leader stressed that they must choose "or Islam or death," while "their women and girls may legitimately be regarded wives of Muslims." Al Baghdadi is known for his "jihad" positions and for attacking Americans in the past during their presence in the country, and today he lives in Syria, supporting the armed opposition.

Catholic sources in the capital tell AsiaNews that it is "a very serious fatwa," but "it is unlikely that people will be upset too much." The government pays "attention" to these proclamations by extremists, however it is possible that such words could "create panic in some areas of the capital," where there are now "very few" Christians. (...)