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Jul 12th, 2009

Car Bomb Explodes Outside Iraqi Church, Kills 4

Image: Iraqi security forces stand guard outside one of several Christian churches that were bombed in Baghdad
Iraqi security forces stand guard outside one of several Christian churches that were bombed in Baghdad on Sunday, July 12, 2009. (Photo credit: Hadi Mizban / AP)

July 12, 2009

BAGHDAD — A car bomb exploded near a church as worshippers left Sunday Mass, killing at least four civilians and injuring 18 in one of several attacks on Iraq’s beleaguered Christian minority.

The coordinated assault came as the Iraqi military predicted that insurgent attacks, though declining, could continue for a few years, raising the prospect of militant violence after the scheduled withdrawal of all U.S. troops by the end of 2011.

Three Christians and one Muslim died in the bombing at around 7 p.m. near a church on Palestine Street in eastern Baghdad, said a police officer who was at the scene. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

An official at al-Kindi hospital confirmed the death toll and said at least 18 people were injured.

In another incident, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill was among a group of American personnel who were uninjured when an explosive device detonated near their convoy in southern Iraq.

State Department spokeswoman Joanne Moore said the bomb exploded as the convoy was traveling Sunday through Dhi Qar province. …

Iraqi Christians often targets for attack

Iraq’s Christians have often been attacked by Islamic extremists, and many have fled the country.

Two bombs that were planted in a church in western Baghdad exploded at midnight Saturday, causing some damage but no injuries. Then three bombs exploded near other Baghdad churches at around 4:30 p.m., injuring eight civilians, police said. The fatal bombing followed two and a half hours later. …


Additional reporting

4 Killed, 32 Wounded as 6 Baghdad Churches Bombed

Family members of Rizko Aziz Nissan grieve before his funeral in Kirkuk, Iraq, on Sunday.
Family members of Rizko Aziz Nissan grieve before his funeral in Kirkuk, Iraq, on Sunday, July 12, 2009.

By Jomana Karadsheh

July 12, 2009

BAGHDAD, Iraq — At least four people were killed and 32 wounded as six Baghdad-area churches were bombed within 24 hours, officials told CNN.

The first bombing took place Saturday night at St. Joseph’s church in western Baghdad, according to an Interior Ministry official. Two bombs placed inside the church exploded at about 10 p.m. No one was in the church at the time of the attack.

Sunday afternoon, three bombs exploded outside churches, wounding eight civilians, the official said. The bombs detonated within a 15-minute span, between 4:30 and 4:45 p.m. Two of the churches are in central Baghdad’s al-Karrada district, and the third is in al-Ghadeer in eastern Baghdad.

Sunday evening, a car bomb exploded outside a church on Palestine Street in eastern Baghdad just after 7 p.m., the official said. Four people died, and 21 were wounded.

And in southern Baghdad’s Dora district, a bomb outside a church wounded three other civilians.

Most of the churches were damaged in the bombings, according to video footage.

Video Watch how the bombings unfolded »

One Christian Iraqi, interviewed outside Sacred Heart Church — one of the two in al-Karrada — said the bomb went off shortly before 5 p.m., as members were arriving for Sunday evening mass. No one was hurt, Sabhan George told CNN, but the bomb damaged the church building and some cars outside.

George said he is concerned about the church bombings. If this continues, he said, “there will be no Christians left in Iraq.”

St. Joseph’s was one of six churches hit by coordinated bombings of Christian houses of worship in Baghdad and Mosul in 2004. The church is in the al-Jamiaa neighborhood of Baghdad, a former stronghold of al Qaeda in Iraq. There have been recent reports of an increase in targeted attacks in the area.

Many of Iraq’s estimated 1 million Christians have fled the country after targeted attacks by extremists. In October, more than a thousand Iraqi families fled the northern city of Mosul after they were reportedly frightened by a series of killings and threats by Muslim extremists, who apparently ordered them to convert to Islam or face possible death. At least 14 Christians were killed in Mosul in the first two weeks of October.

Separately, gunmen shot and killed an official in the Iraqi city of Kirkuk on Sunday morning, a local police official told CNN.

Using guns with silencers, the assailants opened fire on Rizko Aziz Nissan outside his home in central Kirkuk at 8:15 a.m.

Nissan was an Iraqi Christian, but the motives behind his killing were not immediately clear. Kirkuk is 150 miles north of Baghdad.


10/6/09 Update

Iraq Christian Leader Denounces Latest Attacks

People carry the coffin of Imad Elia, 45, an Arab Christian, in Kirkuk, 180 miles north of Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, Oct. 5, 2009. Elia’s death is the latest in ongoing violence that has forced thousands of Christians to leave Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. (Photo credit: Yahya Ahmed / AP)

By Yahya Barzanji

Oct. 5, 2009

KIRKUK, Iraq — The body of a Christian health worker turned up in a field two days after he was kidnapped — prompting several more Christian families to pack up and leave their ancient homeland in northern Iraq.

At least 10 Christian families have left Kirkuk in recent weeks, fearing kidnap-for-ransom gangs that have turned their sights on Christians in one of Iraq’s most ethnically diverse cities.

The recent violence and abductions has prompted Kirkuk’s archbishop to demand government protection against what he has called religious-driven “terrorism.”

Attacks are not new against Iraq’s small but historically significant Christian community, whose roots stretch back to the early centuries of the faith and include areas mentioned in the Bible.

The departures are just the latest in an ongoing exodus of Christians in Iraq, who have been targets of sectarian violence since the U.S.-led 2003 invasion.

Christians first began leaving Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War, during the economic sanctions and repression under Saddam Hussein, who pushed more Islamist policies. But the trickle turned to a flood after Saddam was toppled and the violence escalated.

Thousands of Christians have fled northern Mosul to join relatives abroad or as part of the more than 2.7 million people who have been displaced since the war began. …

“We think there is a political nature to these kidnappings, which is meant to force us to leave Iraq,” said Kirkuk’s Chaldean Archbishop Lewis Sako on Monday.

A day earlier, the body of Imad Elia, a 45-year-old employee at Kirkuk’s health directorate, was found dumped in a field south of the city, about 180 miles north of Baghdad. He was shot in the chest and authorities believe the captors kept shooting into his body after he was dead.

Elia was kidnapped two days before, but his family was unable to pay the ransom demands, Sako said.

Last month, a well-known Christian pediatrician was kidnapped in Kirkuk, but released after his family paid the kidnappers $100,000.

There have been no clear clues on the background of the gangs. But Sako pointed the finger at Islamic extremists whom he claims want to drive out Kirkuk’s remaining 10,000 Christians.

“These acts are really malicious. Extremists are using religion as a pretext to target Christians,” he said. “We call upon the government to provide necessary protection to Christians because these acts meant to frighten Christians out of the country.”

Last year, gunmen stormed two Christian homes in Kirkuk in separate attacks, killing a total of three people. In his sermon to mourners, Sako said the slain Christians were victims of “terrorism.”

Rand Anwar, a Christian journalist in Kirkuk, also accused government security forces of failing to protect Christians.

“Police failed to catch a single criminal involved in the crimes committed against Christians in the past years. Not a single one … And now these kidnappings. Police do not protect us nor do they care about our problems,” Anwar said. …

The last official Iraqi census in 1987 found 1.4 million Christians in the country. Now, according to the 2008 U.S. State Department report on International Religious Freedom, that number has dropped to between 550,000 and 800,000.

Some estimate the number is even lower: only 400,000, according to the German Catholic relief organization Kirche in Not.


1/19/10 Update

Bishops: Mideast Conflict Hurts Christians

Jan. 19, 2010

VATICAN CITY — A Vatican document released Tuesday blamed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the “occupying” of lands for fomenting most of the conflicts in the Middle East, driving Christians out and making life difficult for those who remain.

The document is a guide for discussions for an Oct. 10-24 meeting of Mideast bishops convened by Pope Benedict XVI to discuss the plight of the Christian minority in the overwhelmingly Muslim region. The exodus of Christians from the region and religious discrimination faced by those who remain are main issues on the table. …

‘Evil forces’ unleashed

“In Iraq, the war has unleashed evil forces within the country, religious confessions and political movements, making all Iraqis victims,” it said. “However, because Christians represent the smallest and weakest part of Iraqi communities, they are among the principal victims, with world politics taking no notice.” …


Related reports on this site

In Iraq, an Exodus of Christians (May 16, 2009; scroll down)

Christians on the Run in Iraq (Nov. 26, 2008)

Christians Flee Iraqi City (Oct. 12, 2008)

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