Pregnant Iraq Christian awaits medivac unaware she is widow
As she lay in a Baghdad hospital bed awaiting her evacuation to France for treatment Monday, Siba Nadhir still did not know her husband had been killed in the church bloodbath in which she was wounded.
"They told me it would be better for my baby if I went to France for treatment," said the 30-year-old Christian, who took two bullets to the back in the October 31 hostage-taking and is four months pregnant with a baby her husband will never know.
"I don't want to go," she confides. "I would rather stay here near my husband who was wounded and is in intensive care."
In the corridor outside the ward in Baghdad's Saint Raphael Hospital, her aunt Feryal tearfully admits that she has not had the heart to tell her niece that her husband did not make it.
She said she planned to tell her before she is taken aboard the medical evacuation flight to Paris.
A total of 36 Iraqis who were among the wounded in the shootout between Al-Qaeda militants and Iraqi and US security forces at Baghdad's Syrian Catholic cathedral were to be flown out to the French capital on Monday.
The afternoon flight due in at Orly airport at 1925 GMT was also to carry 21 carers, the French foreign ministry said.
In an adjacent ward to Nadhir's, Mohammed Munir, was happier about the opportunity to receive specialist treatment in a French hospital.
"I want to stay in France to receive the best possible care," said the 30-year-old. He said he had only been back in Baghdad a month after five years studying mechanical engineering in Russia when a grenade shattered his right hand as he was attending Sunday mass. It had to be amputated.
In all, 44 worshippers, two priests and seven security force personnel died during the seizure of the cathedral and the ensuing shootout when it was stormed by troops. The five militants who carried out the attack also died.
Around 60 people were wounded in the bloodbath and France swiftly offered to provide specialist treatment for those with the most serious injuries.
On the eve of Monday's medical evacuation, Immigration Minister Eric Besson said it fitted into France's "tradition of asylum."
"France is the leading land for asylum in Europe and the world's second behind the United States," Besson told reporters.
"We are the European country that receives the most refugees who have been persecuted because of their political opinions, their religion or the colour of their skin," he said.
But France's response to the assault on Iraqi Christians has not been without controversy, with some community leaders warning that it will lead to a new exodus among the already dwindling minority.
An estimated 800,000 Christians lived in Iraq before the US-led invasion of 2003 but that number has since shrunk to around 500,000 in the face of repeated attacks against their community and churches.
France has not only evacuated wounded Christians for treatment. It has also given asylum to healthy ones in the face of Al-Qaeda's threat of more attacks like the one on the Syrian Catholic cathedral.
Besson said 1,300 Iraqi Christians had been granted asylum in France since autumn 2007, an acceptance rate of 85 percent for asylum-seekers from among the community.
He said France planned a second evacuation flight "in the coming weeks" to bring out a further 93 Christians.
Iraqi Christian MP Unadem Kana said France's policy flew in the face of its proud boasts to secularism.
"In the face of Al-Qaeda's threats, the solution is not to remove Christians from Iraq," he said.
But a French diplomat in Baghdad insisted the evacuation flights were "purely humanitarian."
"There is no question of us having a hand in the exodus of Christians from Iraq," he said.
© 2010 AFP