Thousands of people were demonstrating outside EU headquarters Saturday to demand protection for Christians in Iraq, saying they were increasingly being targeted in cold-blooded attacks.

Iraqi religious leaders led the protesters, whom police prevented from marching toward U.S. Embassy. Organizers said 4,000 to 7,000 had come for the demonstration from several European countries. Police put the turnout figure at 3,750.

"Christians in the Middle East are being assassinated and massacred," Iraqi priest Jacob Idine said. "Above all, religious leaders, the archbishops and priests, are being killed in cold blood in Iraq."

Islamic extremists have killed prominent members of Iraq's Christian community in recent weeks. Tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians are believed to have fled since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Idine said the demonstrators wanted the EU to help protect Iraqi people and clergy in Iraq.

German officials on Friday sought backing from other EU nations to accept more Christian refugees from Iraq, arguing that they were particularly vulnerable to violence and discrimination.

But other EU countries expressed concern that giving priority to Christians could discriminate against other groups.