Iraqi — And Christian — In America

Born in Baghdad, Rita Oisha left her family in Iraq to study in Chicago.

"I cried actually. I cried a lot," Oisha told CBS News correspondent Byron Pitts.

But she always believed she could count on two things in this life: her faith and her father.

"Some group of Muslims wanted to get rid of him because he was Christian," Oisha said.

It is a sentiment you'll hear plenty on the North Side of Chicago, home to one of the largest Iraqi-Christian communities in America, where the Sunday services are in Aramaic — the ancient language of Jesus.

What do people talk about after large church gatherings like this?

"Basically, what they talk about is 'have you heard from such and such person? How are they doing? What's going on in Iraq?'" said one churchgoer. "That's all their concern — people back home."

In what has become an unwelcome tradition at this church, well-wishers pay respect to the family of two brothers recently killed in Iraq. Almost every Sunday it's a different family.

Pitts asked a group of Iraqi-Americans to raise their hands if they had a relative killed or kidnapped in Iraq. Three raised their hands.

"I think for people all over the world, Mesopotamia is a cradle of civilization, and what we see today is that it's become a cradle of death," said Robert DeKelaita, an immigration lawyer who came to the United States from Iraq when he was 11. He estimates that 80 percent of Iraqi-Americans are Christian.

"The clients that I deal with, primarily Christian, are being targeted throughout Iraq," DeKelaita said. "And it's really because of three reasons. One is their religion. Number two is their culture. And three is their perceived association with the West."

Oisha left Iraq five years ago. Kidnappers there recently threatened her brother — so her father paid them off.

"He said if I don't give them the money then they're going to kill him, so I'll give them the money and the same day he made my brother go to Syria," she said.

Oisha's parents planned to follow, but her father was gunned down before they could leave.

"They shot him — five bullets on his arm, his heart and three in his stomach," Oisha said. He died.

Her mother and two brothers are in Syria. Oisha wants them to join her in America.

"It's my first hope — to be close to my mom and my brothers," she said. "And I'll try my best to do what my dad asked me to do, to be a doctor."

To make her father proud.

"I will," she said.
  • Christine Lagorio

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