Iraq PM vows to punish groups behind attacks on Christians

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki vowed on Wednesday to punish armed groups which have attacked and killed Christians in Mosul, triggering the flight of more than 2,000 families of the minority group.

Iraq “will punish those who caused the displacement of Christians from their homes, and hold accountable those who stood behind the armed groups which carried out these crimes,” Maliki was quoted as saying in a statement.

Maliki, who was meeting with Iraqi Christian leaders, called the violence part of a greater “political scheme” that was doomed to fail.

He stressed that police would continue to provide security while the government would take whatever steps necessary to help Iraq’s minority Christian community.

“Their (the Christians) departure from Iraq would be an insult to the Iraqi people,” he said.

Maliki did not identify who was behind the violence although various officials have blamed Sunni and Kurd extremists or Al-Qaeda.

An government official said earlier that the flight of Iraqi Christians from Mosul has been stemmed, but only after nearly half the 20,000-strong minority fled the northern city due to a spate of attacks.

“The flight of Christians from Mosul has ceased,” Ghanem al-Ghanam, director of Iraq’s human rights ministry, said in a statement.

He said a fact-finding mission found that 2,275 families — based on an average of four persons per family — had abandoned their homes and jobs, taking shelter in Christian villages on the northern and eastern fringes of Nineveh province.

US and Iraqi commanders consider Mosul, Iraq’s third largest city, to be the nation’s most dangerous centre and the last urban stronghold of Al-Qaeda.

The Iraqi government sent police reinforcements to Mosul after at least 12 Christians were killed since late last month, and Christian houses vandalised and burned while others were threatened.

Since the US-led invasion of 2003 more than 200 Christians have been killed across Iraq and a string of churches attacked, with the violence intensifying in recent weeks, particularly in the north.

Around 800,000 Christians lived in Iraq at the time of the invasion, but the number has since shrunk by around a third as members of the minority community have fled the country, according to Christian leaders.