Christian areas targeted in Baghdad attacks

_49871202_grab3042.jpgThe attacks are the latest in a series of violent incidents targeting Christian communities Continue reading the main
A series of bombings and mortar attacks targeting Christian areas has killed at least three people in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, security sources say.

Six districts with strong Christian majorities were hit, and at least 24 people have been injured.

The attacks come days after more than 40 people died when Islamist militants seized a Catholic cathedral.

The violence comes as top-level talks on resolving the country’s political crisis ended without agreement.

Iraq’s political leaders have been negotiating on forming a new government since inconclusive elections in March.

Threat

“Two mortar shells and 10 home-made bombs targeted the homes of Christians in different neighbourhoods of Baghdad between 0600 and 0800 (0300 and 0500 GMT),” an unnamed official told AFP news agency.

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Analysis

Jim Muir

BBC News, Baghdad

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The spate of attacks came as the ancient Christian communities here were agonising over whether to stay in Iraq or try to leave.

Since 2003, the Christian population – then estimated at somewhat less than a million – has dwindle to roughly half that size, following a number of bomb attacks on churches and abductions or killings of priests and other Christians.

The emigration has continued, and it would be surprising if it does not accelerate further, despite calls from Church and political leaders in Baghdad for Christians to remain.

The bombings showed that the militants are capable of carrying out co-ordinated attacks in different parts of the city against targets of their own choosing.

Police said the predominantly Christian areas of Camp Sara, Sinaa Street and al-Ghadeer in central Baghdad were among the districts hit, according to the Associated Press.

An interior ministry source, quoted anonymously by Reuters, said the attacks were directly linked to the siege of the cathedral.

“These operations, which targeted Christians, came as a continuation of the attack that targeted the Salvation church,” the source said.

The BBC’s Jim Muir, in Baghdad, says it is unclear whether Christians were killed. However the intention is clear – to underline a threat from the so-called Islamic State for Iraq, an umbrella group linked to al-Qaeda, that all Christians in the country are now a legitimate target.

Iraqi Christians said they knew who was behind the violence.

“There is no need to say who is behind this. It is obvious. We do not want to say who or from which side. The church attack before and now this – it is obvious,” a man named only as Emad said, according to Reuters.

‘Panicked’

The attacks came a day after Prime Minister Nouri Maliki visited the Syriac Catholic cathedral where 44 Christian worshippers, two priests and seven security forces personnel died after it was seized by Islamist militants and then stormed by troops.

It is unclear how many of the dead and injured were Christian
The Islamic State of Iraq has claimed responsibility for the cathedral attack, saying it wanted to force the release of converts to Islam allegedly being detained by the Coptic Church in Egypt.

A total of 34 Iraqi Christians and a Muslim guard wounded in the 31 October cathedral attack were flown to France for treatment, where the country’s immigration minister said asylum would be granted to those who sought it.

Over the weekend, a senior Iraqi cleric in London called on Iraqi Christians to flee the country because it was so dangerous.

“If we stay, they will kill us,” Archbishop Athanasios Dawood said after addressing a congregation of Iraqi Orthodox Christians at a service in the UK capital.

However, in Iraq itself, church and political leaders have urged the Christian communities to stay in the country where they have been based for more than 2,000 years.

Catholic representatives in the city said the community was now frightened and confused.

“People are panicked. They come to see us in the churches to ask what they should do. We are shattered by what has happened,” said Saad Sirap Hanna, a priest at Baghdad’s Saint Joseph church, according to AFP.

Christians – many from ancient denominations – have been leaving Iraq in droves since the US-led invasion in 2003, and about 600,000 remain.

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