Iraqi Christians Flee Mosul in the Wake of Attacks

BAGHDAD — A church in the northern city of Mosul was bombed Tuesday as Christians continued to leave the city to escape recent violence that has been directed at them.

Several church leaders accused the Iraqi government of trying to cover up the extent of the problems facing Christians there and of overstating its success in improving security in Mosul, one of the country’s most volatile cities.

As the government announced plans on Tuesday to send officials to Mosul to assist the Christian community, the anti-American Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, who is believed to be in Iran, sent some of his most senior aides from the holy Shiite city of Najaf to Baghdad to meet with church leaders in an expression of solidarity.

“For Christians in Mosul this is a time for tears, because from the beginning we did not get support, least of all from state officials,” Msgr. Shlemon Warduni, the auxiliary bishop of the Chaldean Patriarchate, told the Shiite delegation during a meeting on Tuesday at the Virgin Mary Church in eastern Baghdad.

“The government acted only belatedly,” he said.

One of Mr. Sadr’s representatives at the meeting, Sheik Muhanned al-Gharrawi, said that he had just spoken to Mr. Sadr by telephone and that he was instructed to convey a message from his leader: “We will not hesitate to turn into human shields for our Christian brothers if need be.”

Another Shiite cleric, Hazem al-Araji, said that some of the families that had fled Mosul to predominantly Christian villages in the Nineveh Plain, northeast of the city, sought the protection of his movement.

“We told them that we cannot provide military help but that we will exert pressure on the government,” Mr. Araji said.

He added that his movement would send trucks with food, mattresses and blankets to aid displaced families.

Mr. Sadr’s followers say their militia, the Mahdi Army, has been dismantled.

Both Monsignor Warduni and a Christian community leader, Iyad al-Ashouri, accused the Iraqi government, notably the Ministry of Defense, of belittling the extent of the crisis in Mosul.

The government, which ordered additional forces to Mosul on Sunday, said in a statement that it was sending a ministerial delegation there to “address the problems and needs of our Christian brothers.”

On Tuesday, a homemade bomb placed at the door of the Miskinta Church in the Old City district of Mosul detonated and caused some damage to the building but no casualties, Monsignor Warduni said.

Security officials in Mosul confirmed the episode, the first known attack on a Christian site on the city’s west side since a wave of attacks against Christians began in late September. Most of the violence has been on the east side of the city.

Ramzi Mikha, a Christian member of the Nineveh provincial council, said that although the pace of Christians leaving Mosul had slowed on Tuesday, dozens were still leaving, with some heading to the relative safety of some neighborhoods in Baghdad.

It is unclear who is responsible for the attacks. Some Arab politicians have blamed the Kurds; Kurdish politicians have said that former Baathists and “terrorists” are responsible.

Five Sunni insurgent groups issued separate statements over the past few days disavowing the attacks, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors militants’ Web sites.

The Rev. Nadheer Dakko of the St. Georges Chaldean Church in the Ghadeer neighborhood of Baghdad, who is also acting as a liaison for various Christian groups, said he had compiled a list of 1,795 families who had left Mosul since late September.

He said 10 families had come from Mosul to his church seeking food, supplies and shelter.

Shukria Youssef, a member of the St. Georges congregation whose sister is a nun at an orphanage in Mosul, said many of the Christians remaining in the city were destitute and could not afford to leave.

“As long as there are people my sister and the other nuns will not leave,” she said. “They consider themselves spiritual soldiers.”

Haitham Haazem, a Christian who fled to Baghdad from Mosul with his wife on Sunday, said Iraqi forces had restricted themselves to fixed checkpoints and had little control over entire neighborhoods on the east side, where killings and intimidations took place.

In other developments, an American soldier was killed Tuesday in an attack while he was on patrol in western Baghdad, the United States military said in a statement.

In London, Iraq’s oil minister, Hussain al-Shahristani, met on Monday with representatives of 35 oil companies that have qualified to bid on long-term service contracts at six major oil fields and two gas fields. The winning bids will be announced next summer.

Major foreign oil companies are returning to Iraq 36 years after losing concessions when the industry was nationalized.

Mohammed Hussein contributed reporting from Baghdad, and Iraqi employees of The New York Times from Mosul.