Iraqi archbishop decries Christian slayings

The Associated Press

(AP) — KIRKUK, Iraq (AP) ? An Iraqi Christian leader told mourners Monday that the slayings of three Christians a day earlier was an act of religious terrorism that raised fears of more sectarian violence in the northern city of Kirkuk.

The attackers shot the victims at point-blank range in the head and chest at their homes.

“Innocent people who have no relation with politics and never harmed anyone were killed by terrorists in their homes just because they were Christians,” said Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako a day after gunmen attacked two Christian houses in separate attacks.

Iraqi officials have struggled over how to resolve the deep ethnic rifts in Kirkuk, about 180 miles (290 kilometers) north of Baghdad. The oil-rich area is at the center of a power contest between the majority Kurds and Arabs, but it also includes ethnic Turks and various Christian groups.

Speaking to mourners at Kirkuk’s main Chaldean church, Sako blamed political leaders for failing to reach compromises on the many ethnic and political disputes.

“It seems that violence is coming back and they lost that chance,” he told a gathering of about 600 people, including representatives from the Kurdish, Turkomen and Arab communities.

Two of the victims were Chaldean Christians and the other was Assyrian. Family members said they all would be buried in their home regions near Mosul.

There have been no arrests or claims of responsibility for the late Sunday attacks, but Kirkuk authorities and some Christian leaders suspect Sunni insurgents linked to al-Qaida in Iraq.

Kirkuk police Lt. Col. Anwar Qadir said the slayings appear to be an attempt by al-Qaida to spark sectarian clashes.

Yashor Benyamin, a Christian rights activist in Kirkuk, said the attacks carried the “fingerprints” of al-Qaida in Iraq.

“It’s the fundamentalists of al-Qaida who committed this crime because they did not steal money or jewelry. They just carried out religiously motivated killings,” Benyamin said.

The first assault killed a woman and her daughter-in-law. About a half-hour later, gunmen killed a 27-year-old man in another part of the city, said Qadir.

Eman Latif, the sister of the younger woman killed, said the attacker stabbed the victims after they were gunned down.

“What have they done to be treated like this?” she said.

Last week, U.N. representatives gave Iraqi leaders a report outlining suggestions to ease sectarian tensions in Kirkuk, including a proposal to give the area “special status” that would allow joint oversight by both the Kurdish region and the central government in Baghdad.