Iraq working to ensure safety of Christians: Maliki

BAGHDAD (AFP) — Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Tuesday told the Vatican’s ambassador to Iraq that his government is committed to ensuring the safety of Christians, after weekend attacks on churches and a convent.

The Baghdad meeting between Maliki and Monsignor Francis Assisi Chullikatt came a day after Pope Benedict XVI expressed concern for Christians in Iraq following a spate of bombings of Christian buildings in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

“The Iraqi government is anxious to ensure the safety of Iraqi Christians,” Maliki told the ambassador, adding that it is not only Christians who are being targeted but all religious groups, including Muslims.

“Christians and Muslims are united in the face of terrorists and outlaws,” Maliki said, according to a statement from his office.

The pope said on Monday that reconciliation in Iraq is “urgently needed.”

“Terrorist attacks, threats and violence continue, especially against the Christian community,” he said in his annual speech to Vatican diplomats.

Iraq Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi also condemned Sunday’s attacks on the churches and convents in which four people were wounded and buildings damaged.

The vice president “condemns and denounces these terrorist attacks and declares his sympathy with the Christian brothers and stands with them in the face of these unjust attacks which turned celebrations into grief and worry,” said Hashemi’s official website.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told reporters that during the meeting Maliki had renewed his invitation to the pope to visit Iraq.

The ambassador had replied that the pontiff was keen to visit the country “at the first available opportunity.”