By Mustafa Mahmoud
BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Christians in Kirkuk were urged to stand firm by the city’s Chaldean archbishop Monday after three members of the religious minority were gunned down in their homes.
Louis Sako told mourners at a cathedral in the ethnically mixed city that the attacks Sunday killing three Christians and wounding two others were outrageous.
“The main objective of these crimes is to create chaos and promote strife and divisions among the people of Kirkuk. I call on Christians not to be jarred by these crimes and to stay in Kirkuk. We are sons of this city,” he said.
According to U.S. military officials, gunmen entered a home in southern Kirkuk, killing two women. Gunmen attacked three men in a home in the same area the same night. One was killed.
The attacks echoed violence last year that triggered the flight of thousands of Christian families from the northern city of Mosul, like Kirkuk a volatile mix of Arabs, Kurds and Christians. Most of the families returned home.
Kirkuk also has a sizeable Turkmen population.
In Mosul, the level of violence against Christians was relatively small in comparison to other attacks of a sectarian or religious nature in Iraq’s recent past, but it prompted widespread concern inside Iraq and in the West.
Iraq’s Christians are believed to number around 750,000, a small minority in a country of around 28 million
Tensions are running high in Kirkuk which minority Kurds hope to include in their largely autonomous northern region, an idea rejected by the city’s other residents.
The impasse over control of Kirkuk, which sits on vast oil reserves, has dragged on since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein, who brought Arabs en masse to the city in a bid to dilute Kurdish influence.
Last week, the United Nations submitted to Iraqi officials a highly anticipated report on the future of Kirkuk, which it hopes will prompt renewed political negotiations on who will control the city and the surrounding province.
Abdul Rahman Mustafa, governor of Kirkuk province, echoed Sako’s call for Christians not to be intimidated.
“We will not stand with our hands behind our backs. We will pursue the wicked people who are trying to stir sectarian strife in Kirkuk. I’m asking Christian families not to fall for this ploy,” said Mustafa, a Sunni Muslim Kurd.