Abducted in Iraq

by Bishop Saad Sirop Hanna, University of Notre Dame Press, 184pp, £25

On Sunday November 17, 2007, after he had finished celebrating Mass, Bishop Saad Sirop Hanna was driving back to the local seminary when two cars surrounded his vehicle and forced him to pull over. Assailants rushed towards his car, dragged him out and bundled him into their vehicle. This was the beginning of a gruelling ordeal.

For the next 27 days the bishop was cut off from everything and everyone he knew and loved – from his family, friends and congregation. For four weeks he endured the deprivations – both physical and psychological – of captivity, and the pain of not knowing if those he loved knew whether he was alive or dead. His fate remained uncertain, and he was aware he could be killed at any time.

When he was alone, Bishop Sirop’s thoughts were submerged by a chaotic flood of feelings and memories, his mind reaching a state of extreme emotional disintegration. He asked God: “Why? Have I not done all that you asked of me? Have I not helped my people any time I could? Why would you put me here? What is the reason?”

The invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the bungled eight-year occupation that followed, undoubtedly radicalised many Iraqis and pushed them towards resistance amid the upheaval spreading across Iraq. A wave of unprecedented cross-sectarian terror was ignited, with the main Sunni and Shia groups driven to exterminate each other. Both viewed the American-led invasion as a Christian crusade, and Iraqi Christians as its supporters and collaborators. The persecution of Christians took the form of bombings, kidnappings and the killing of men and women. The elderly and children were not spared. Those unable to join the Iraqi diaspora to Europe and America often fled to sister communities in northern Iraq and neighbouring countries.

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