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PERSECUTION WATCH

Christian Aid Workers In Iraq Fear New Violence

By Stefan J. Bos
Assist News Service

CBN.com -- BAGHDAD, IRAQ (ANS) -- As thousands of Iraqi Muslims mourned approximately 100 victims killed in a mosque bombing, Christian aid workers in Iraq faced another day of uncertainty amid concern they will be the next targets of deadly attacks.

Southern Baptist ministry projects in Iraq have already been delayed for at least two weeks after signs that remnants of Saddam Hussein's faction are planning to target humanitarian workers in the country, ASSIST News Service (ANS) learned.

"The United Nations NGO coordinating council passed along some information that apparently the remnant of Saddam loyalists were planning attacks that would intentionally target NGO personnel," said Mark Kelly of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board (IMB).

The situation was expected to complicate the distribution of 46,000 food boxes in Iraq as volunteer teams from Missouri and North Carolina were to begin arriving this weekend in the troubled nation.

VIOLENCE

"Our workers in Iraq contacted us saying that they felt we needed to delay for at least two weeks sending any volunteers into the country," Kelly told Mission Network News (MNN), a radio and internet news outlet.

Aid workers and church officials have also expressed concern about Muslim- violence directed against Christians and missionary workers, who are often identified with the American led coalition.

Meanwhile thousands of Shiites, some chanting anti-U.S. slogans, hold a symbolic funeral procession in Baghdad Sunday for spiritual leader Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim of Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq who was among those killed.

CAR BOMBING

No one has claimed responsibility for the car bombing Friday, August 29, outside what Shiites regard as their "holiest site" in the city of Najaf, but Iraqi police has questioned about a dozen suspects, news reports said.

"Those in police custody include two Pakistanis -- with possible connections to al Qaeda -- a Saudi national, an Iranian national and a Kuwaiti national," the Cable News Network (CNN) quoted Iraqi police as saying.

Amid chaos and destruction Southern Baptist workers and other Christians ANS talked to asked for prayer that the delay in beginning ministry projects would be minimal.

MINISTRY

"People need to pray because the majority of Iraqis are still positive toward us and open to our ministry," they said in a statement seen by ANS. "But if humanitarian workers are going to be singled out as targets, we must not put our people at greater risk than they would be already."

It was not immediately clear how the latest violence would effect missions of other Christian organizations, although plans continue to distribute aid and Christian literature, including the first ever bible for Kurdish children in Northern Iraq, aid workers said in earlier interviews with ANS.

While danger is not new in Iraq, United Nations officials in Baghdad have told ANS that the targeting of humanitarian workers is a new and increasingly worrying development.

The August 19 truck-bomb attack on the United Nations offices in Baghdad underscored the concerns that non military humanitarian operations are now part of the apparent opposition to what Saddam loyalists see as foreign occupiers.

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Assist News Service is brought to you in part by Open Doors USA, a ministry that has served the Suffering Church around the world for nearly 50 years. You can get more information by logging onto their website at www.opendoorsusa.org

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