News Reports – Winter 2005

This article gathers together several press reports published in December 2004.

Iraqi civilian deaths increase dramatically after invasion

Civilian deaths have risen dramatically in Iraq since the country was invaded in March 2003, according to a survey conducted by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Columbia University School of Nursing and Al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad. The researchers found that the majority of deaths were primarily due to military actions by Coalition forces. Most of those killed by Coalition forces were women and children.

The survey is the first countrywide attempt to calculate the number of civilian deaths in Iraq since the war began. The US military does not keep records on civilian deaths and record keeping by the Iraq Ministry of Health is limited. The study was published October 29.

“Our findings need to be independently verified with a larger sample group. However, I think our survey demonstrates the importance of collecting civilian casualty information during a war and that it can be done,” said lead author Dr. Les Roberts, an associate with the Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for International Emergency, Disaster and Refugee Studies.

The researchers conducted their survey in September. They randomly selected 33 neighborhoods of 30 homes from across Iraq and interviewed the residents about the number and ages of the people living in each home. Over 7,800 Iraqis were included. Residents were questioned about the number of births and deaths that occurred in the household since January 2002. Information was also collected about the causes and circumstances of each death. When possible, the deaths were verified with a death certificate or other documentation.

The researchers compared the mortality rate among civilians in Iraq during the 14.6 months prior to the March 2003 invasion with the 17.8-month period following the invasion. The sample group reported 46 deaths prior to the March 2003 and 142 deaths following the invasion. The results were calculated twice, both with and without information from the city of Fallujah. The researchers felt the excessive violence from combat in Fallujah could skew the overall mortality rates. Excluding information from Fallujah, they estimate that 100,000 more Iraqis died than would have been expected had the invasion not occurred. Eighty-four percent of the deaths were reported to be caused by the actions of Coalition forces and 95 percent of those deaths were due to air strikes and artillery.

Mortality before and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: cluster sample survey” is available on the web.

1,000th U.S. soldier killed in action in Iraq

The number of U.S. troops killed in action in Iraq hit 1,000 December 7 when the military announced a soldier had been shot dead on patrol in Baghdad. “The soldier was on patrol when the unit came under small arms fire,” the military in Iraq said in a brief statement. 1,275 U.S. service personnel have died during the Iraq operation, launched with the invasion on March 20 last year. This figure includes accidents, suicides and other deaths not classed as being killed in action. A total of 9,765 U.S. troops have been wounded.

U.S. army deserter seeks asylum in Canada

Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board is considering whether 25-year-old Jeremy Hinzman, a former paratrooper with the U.S. Army, should be granted refugee status in Canada. After serving in Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne Division, Hinzman applied for a transfer to a noncombatant position in the Army. When that was rejected and his division was ordered to Iraq, Hinzman drove from Fort Bragg to Toronto with his wife and infant son. They are living in a basement apartment while their request is pending.

Hinzman regards the occupation of Iraq as immoral and illegal and argues that he refused to go to Iraq to avoid committing war crimes. “My life isn’t that significant,” he said, “but also it’s not so worthless as to be killed or to go kill innocent people.”

A soldier who refused to fight in Saddam Hussein’s army in the invasion of Kuwait successfully sought refugee status. Hinzman hopes a similar ruling will be made in his case.

At an initial hearing in December Hinzman’s lawyer presented evidence of U.S. war crimes in Iraq, including attacks on civilian population centers, and the torture and murder of prisoners.

One of the witnesses was a former U.S. Marine staff sergeant, Jimmy Massey, a 12-year veteran, who testified that his unit killed at least 30 unarmed civilians in Iraq during the war in 2003. He said that Marines on numerous occasions had shot and killed wounded Iraqis. Massey left Iraq in May 2003 after a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress. He testified that he and his men had shot and killed four Iraqis staging a demonstration and a man with his hands up trying to surrender, as well as women and children at roadblocks. Massey said he had complained to his superiors about the “killing of innocent civilians” but nothing was done. He stated that the killings occurred in late March or early April 2003 as his unit, the weapons company of the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, moved northward to Baghdad and then beyond.

During one 48-hour period, Massey said under oath, his platoon set up roadblocks and killed “30-plus” civilians. He said his men, fearing suicide bombers, poured massive firepower into cars that did not stop as they approached the roadblocks. In each instance, he said, none of the cars was found to have contained explosives or arms.

“Why didn’t the Iraqis stop? That is something that has plagued me every waking moment of the day,” he said, “But I do know we killed innocent civilians.” In one case, the driver of a car leaped out with his hands up. “But we kept firing. We killed him,” Massey said. In another case, he and other Marines shot and killed four protesters near a checkpoint after a single incoming gunshot from an unknown source, he said. None of the protesters was found with arms.

Massey was honorably discharged six months after his medical evacuation from Iraq.

The Canadian government won a ruling at the hearing that the legality of the Iraq war could not be an issue at the refugee hearing. But Hinzman’s attorney, Jeffry House, has introduced testimonials and human rights reports to support Hinzman’s claim that he would have been forced to violate the Geneva Conventions in Iraq.

Iraqi Christians keeping a low profile

Christian leaders estimate that 50,000 of Iraq’s nearly 800,000 Christians have fled the country since last year, mostly going to Jordan and Syria. After a year of church bombings, death threats and assassinations, the Christians who remain have all but canceled Christmas. Fearing insurgent attacks, Christian bishops announced in December that they would call off the usual Christmas celebrations.

Christians have lived in Iraq for at least fifteen hundred years, enjoying peaceful relations with Muslims for most of that time. But after the U.S.-led invasion, insurgents began targeting the community, accusing Christians of cooperating with American “infidels” by working as translators, house cleaners and merchants. Harassment became so bad that many Christian women began wearing a hijab, or Muslim head scarf.

“We are the agents of no one, and we don’t accept being linked to the occupiers because of our religion,” Louis Sako, the Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Kirkuk, recently told parishioners as he announced the cancellation of Christmas celebrations in that northern city. “Blowing up our churches and frightening our sons will not solve the problems of Iraq.”

Orthodox church re-opened in Mostar

The Orthodox church of Presveta Bogorodica at Bjelusine in Mostar, devastated in the past war, was re-opened on October 17 by Bishop Grigorije presided. Following the Liturgy, there was a public gathering involving Orthodox believers as well as representatives of the Catholic Church and the Islamic community, local political leaders and a member of the Bosnian presidency, Borislav Paravac.

It is the only Orthodox church in the Neretva Valley that has been that has so far been restored to service. The church was built in 1832 on the foundations of a 15th century church but was devastated in 1992. Over the past several years it was partially restored. Full reconstruction was begin in 2002, thanks to aid from the German government.

No spiritual manipulation, Patriarch Alexis warns

Patriarch Alexis, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, warned clergy against manipulating the flock’s mind. He made his criticisms in a lengthy address delivered at a diocesan conference held December 15 in Moscow.

“The Orthodox Christian mind is secularizing,” he said. “The ecclesiastical spirit is receding. Spiritual blindness is coming in. Commerce is becoming ever stronger in many aspects of parochial life as an alarming token of all those evils. Material interests come into the foreground ever more often to oust and strangle everything living and sublime. Nothing frightens the flock off religion worse than the clergy’s cupidity. It is not for nothing greed for money is known as an abominable deathly passion, a betrayal of the Lord on a par with the sin of Judas.”

Denouncing clergy who have set up fees for administering sacraments, he said, “We are duty bound to explain to the flock that churches are property of the entire people of God. It is Christian duty to donate what each can afford to church maintenance. Yet our explanations are by no means to turn into forcing people to make donations. This must be a kind, fatherly explanation and encouragement.”

He criticized priests whose guidance to others turns into domination. “It is fearsome when a priest gives up Christ to put his own self into the foreground as he establishes a sect within the Church. Spiritual guidance is not to degrade into manipulating the public mind – it is the power of love not spiritual coercion.”

He recommended that the Diocesan Council pay more attention to examinations of applicants to be ordained. “When we decide to ordain a candidate, we are to pay the utmost attention to whether he can meet the demands of the time we live in.”

Alexis urged parishes to place increased attention on helping those in need. “Many helpless invalids have no one to look after them. The Church can cure the matter. Humans are apt to believe the deed more than the word. Helpless old men and women, invalids and disabled people are living side by side with us. Their near and dear wear themselves out looking after them. They often seek help from the Church in their plight. They need not only our prayers but help in everyday chores. Can we stand aloof to those entreaties?”

Russia is passing through a demographic crisis, Alexis warned, with its population dwindling, partly due to the frequency of abortion. “The number of babies coming into the world lags desperately behind the number of babies killed in their mother’s womb… Our nation is killing itself… To kill a baby in its mother’s womb is the most heinous of deadly sins. That precept against abortion has always been part and parcel of the Church doctrine. Meanwhile, the number of abortions in Russia defies imagination… The nation is dying out. Does this nation deserve to survive at all, we wonder?”

Alexis condemned euthanasia as a type of suicide. “The Orthodox Church regards the promoting of euthanasia and suicide as concealed or open Satanism,” he said. “The opinion that the man has the right to be the lord of his life is widely popular today. There are many proposals to legalize this sinful ‘right’ and attempts to explain suicide in medical terms, calling it euthanasia. The worst thing is that doctors, whose duty is to take care of people’s life, are now encouraged to commit murder.”

Turkish government violates rights of Ecumenical Patriarch

A decree signed by the office of Turkey’s Prime Minister prohibited representatives of all Turkish public institutions from attending a reception November 30 at the US embassy to welcome a Greek Orthodox delegation from the USA.

The reason for the ban was that the invitations issued by the embassy for a visiting delegation of Orthodox Order of Saint Andrew referred to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchy as the Greek Orthodox “Ecumenical Patriarchy.” Turkey refuses to acknowledge any international role for the patriarch and rejects his use of the title “ecumenical.” It regards the patriarch merely as leader of Istanbul’s dwindling Orthodox community of less than 3,000.

“We find it wrong that although none of our citizens has such a title, that invitations are issued in this form,” said Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a television interview, adding that the patriarch’s status was determined by an international treaty signed in 1923.

“We are very saddened, both as a patriarchate and as a community. We had expected our problems to end, and now we have all sorts of new issues coming out,” Bartholomew said. “None of our problems has been solved. We have more attacks against us even though we are on the brink of a decision to get a date for Europe.”

The issue goes to the heart of questions about Turkey’s commitment to European values. The European Union has said that improved rights for ethnic and religious minorities would be a condition for Turkey’s EU membership.

Serbian Church sues UK, France, Germany & Italy over Kosovo

The Serbian Orthodox Church has filed a lawsuit against the UK, France, Germany and Italy for allegedly failing to protect its churches in Kosovo. Bishop Artemije of Raska and Prizren, who lodged the complaint, told Serbian media that the four nations had allowed ethnic Albanians to ransack and destroy more than 80 churches and monasteries.

Though NATO-led troops took control of Kosovo in June 1999, clashes have continued between the majority Albanian population and the Serb minority. An outbreak of violence in March, in which Serb-owned homes and churches were attacked, left 19 people dead.

Orthodox church to be rebuilt in Harbin, China

A Russian Orthodox Church, Holy Iveron Icon Church, will be rebuilt in Harbin, China, after almost half a century of neglect, it was announced in December. The project, carried out at municipal expense, will be part of the rehabilitation of a busy area of Harbin that acts as a transportation center.

The church, with five magnificent Russian-style domes, was built in 1908. The domes, which have since disappeared, will be rebuilt. The church fell into disuse after 1949 and was severely damaged during China’s “cultural revolution.”

As one of the most important cities in Northeast China, Harbin attracted many Russians at the end of the 19th century. The city now has about two dozen Oriental Orthodox churches, several Protestant churches, and a Turkish mosque.

Pope returns relics to Istanbul

Pope John Paul II returned the relics of two of the most revered saints in the Orthodox Church, of St. John Chrysostom and St. Gregory of Nazianzus, on November 28, a gesture aimed at healing a millennium of distrust between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches. The relics had long been interred in Rome.

In the presence of Patriarch Bartholomew, the pope spoke of reconciliation at a ceremony in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Bartholomew said the return of the relics showed that “in the Church of Christ, there exist no insurmountable problems when love, justice and peace meet.”

“I am overwhelmed and very happy,” said Bartholomew on a radio broadcast, “not only personally, but so is the whole Church of Constantinople and I can say without reservations, the whole of Orthodoxy. It is a very important step towards full unity between our sister Churches. I consider it as the most important of my patriarchal services over these last 13 years. We give thanks to His Holiness, John Paul II. We can expect other steps forward. We cannot foresee which ones they will be, but they will always be positive, always fraternal steps that will promote good relations between us. Each one of these steps will be a stone in the construction of the building of full unity.”

Patriarch Bartholomew: Christmas offers hope

In his annual Christmas message, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople spoke of the power of Christian hope in a world wracked by crises and suffering.

“Uncertainty, anxiety, depression, lack of meaning, inexplicability of what is taking place, frequent indifference and even hate have established themselves in the soul of most people,” he said. Some manifest their dissatisfaction through acts of terrorism, while other, having entrenched themselves behind their wealth or power, were living in a secluded world, “neither feeling the pain of others, nor willing to ease their pain”.

“In search of new forms and relations, social structures are being destabilized, spiritual quests are derailed in self-destructing cults and unprecedented natural disasters occur in different places on earth.”

He contrasted such trends with Christian hope. “We believe and know well that salvation is to be found nowhere else but in Christ, and there is no other name by which we may be saved other than the name of Jesus Christ. We invite all our fellow human beings, whether they know Christ or not, to draw near to Jesus Christ.”