x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Iraq pledges punishment and aid after church attack

Security personnel responsible for the lapse in safety that led to the deaths of dozens of worshippers on Sunday will be held to account, government pledges, while victims and their families will be compensated.

The Iraqi government said on Tuesday it would punish security officials in the Baghdad district where al Qa'eda gunmen carried out a deadly hostage-taking at a church that left dozens of worshippers dead.

The cabinet decided to "form a committee to investigate and punish security personnel responsible for" the Karrada district where Sunday night's attack happened, government spokesman Ali al Dabbagh said in a statement.

The government would also "treat the wounded, compensate relatives of the dead and finance the repair of the church, which should begin immediately," Dabbagh said.

He called on Iraqi Christians, who have been leaving the country in large numbers since the US-led 2003 invasion, "not to allow the enemy to empty Iraq of its Christian" community.

Also on Tuesday, Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki ordered the arrest of the Karrada district's police commander for failing in his duties, state television said.

At least 46 hostages were killed and 60 wounded after al Qa'eda gunmen stormed into the Sayidat al-Nejat Syriac Christian cathedral in the heart of Baghdad during Sunday mass and began shooting.

Witnesses said all were wearing suicide vests, and that at least one militant detonated his payload.

The drama ended with a raid by Iraqi special forces, with the US military saying it played an advisory role.