IRAQ: Trenches to protect Christians

200661441.jpgPhoto: Afif Sarhan/IRIN
An estimated 800,000 Christians are left in Iraq (file photo)
BAGHDAD, 23 July 2009 (IRIN) – Security measures nationwide have been stepped up to protect the Christian community from militant attacks, security officials say, including digging trenches around Christian towns in remote areas.

“The Interior Minister has been ordered to set up a committee to supervise and follow up the protection of churches and other Christian worship places in Baghdad and other provinces,” Maj. Gen. Ahmed Abu-Righeef, the Interior Ministry Under-Secretary, said in a statement.

In the northern province of Ninevah, which has a substantial Christian community, security officials have decided to dig trenches around two main Christian towns that were targeted in the past.

Abdul-Raheem al-Shimari, head of the provincial security and defence committee, said trenches would encircle the towns of Tilkaif and Hamdaniya and two to four gates would be set up in each town.

“These trenches, which will be 0.5m in width, will prevent car bombs from getting in and with the search at the gates it will be impossible for militants to launch attacks inside these towns,” Al-Shimari explained.

“We also increased our intelligence services to foil any such attacks against the Christians in the whole province,” Al-Shimari said.

A similar move to deter car bombs and insurgent attacks with trenches was planned for Baghdad in 2006 but was shelved and instead efforts were focused on conducting military operations in the provinces and raiding potential bomb suppliers.

Abu-Righeef also said a special force would be established to protect churches and other minority worship places during holidays after a recent wave of violence.

Jean Sleiman, the Catholic Archbishop of Baghdad, said on 22 July that only an estimated 800,000 Christians were left in Iraq.

According to some reports, it is estimated that as many as half the Christian population has left Iraq since 2003.