Bomb attacks targeting Christians in Baghdad kill 37
BAGHDAD // Militants in Iraq targeted Christians in three separate Christmas Day bombings in Baghdad, killing at least 37 people, officials said yesterday.
In one attack, a car bomb went off near a church in the capital’s southern Dora neighbourhood, killing at least 26 people and wounding 38, a police officer said.
Earlier, two bombs ripped through a nearby outdoor market simultaneously in the Christian section of Athorien, killing 11 people and wounding 21, the officer said.
The Iraq-based leader of the Chaldean Catholic Church, Louis Sako, said the parked car bomb exploded after Christmas Mass and that none of the worshippers were hurt. He said he did not believe the church was the target.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks, but Iraq’s dwindling Christian community, which is estimated to number about 400,000 to 600,000 people, often has been targeted by Al Qaeda and other insurgents who see the Christians as heretics.
Along with Christians, other targets include civilians in restaurants, cafes or crowded public areas, as well as Shiites and members of the Iraqi security forces, attacked in an attempt to undermine confidence in the Shiite-led government and stir up Iraq’s already simmering sectarian tensions.
A medical official confirmed the casualty figures.
Pews in churches that would have overflowed with worshippers a few years ago were barely two-thirds full this year — a reflection of the fact that the Christian community has fallen from about 1.5 million before the US-led invasion.
“The future is very critical because of immigration,” Iraqi rights activist, William Warda, said this week. He estimated that 10 to 20 Christians were leaving the country each day.
“Many Christians ... are fleeing from the country because of this issue, because there is no sign of a bright future.”
Mr Warda said he hoped recent gestures by Iraqi prime minister, Nouri Al Maliki’s Shiite-led government, such as making Christmas a national holiday for the first time this year, would encourage more Christians to stay.
Mr Al Maliki, whose government has been criticised as sectarian and divisive, may have his own interests in mind as well.
Parliamentary elections are coming up next year and with car bombs, shootings and suicide attacks a more or less daily occurrence, security is certain to be on voters’ minds.
There is plenty of evidence that authorities are eager to cast themselves as a national force of stability and security after over a decade of war and acrid political divisions.
Christmas Eve overlapped this year not only with the Shiite holy day of Arbain, but also with a major army offensive in desert areas of the Sunni-dominated western Anbar province aimed at flushing out Al Qaeda militants who have stepped up attacks across Iraq in the past months, sending violence to levels not seen since 2008.
The Christmas Day attacks brought the total number of people killed so far this month in Iraq to 441. According to United Nations estimates, more than 8,000 people have been killed since the start of the year.
Agence France-Presse with additional reporting by Reuters
Updated: December 25, 2013 04:00 AM