Attacks target Iraq's Christians again, kill 5
BAGHDAD – Baghdad's Christians came under attack again Wednesday when a coordinated series of roadside bombs blew up in predominantly Christian neighborhoods, killing five people. The blasts came less than two weeks after insurgents besieged a church and killed 56 Christians in an assault that drew international condemnation.
Police said at least 11 roadside bombs went off within an hour in three predominantly Christian areas of central Baghdad. Four of the blasts hit houses belonging to Christians, and two mortar rounds also struck Christian enclaves of the predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Dora in south Baghdad. Two bombs planted in deserted Christian homes in western Baghdad destroyed two houses.
It was the third attack targeting Christians since the church siege on Oct. 31. Late Tuesday, a series of bombs hit three empty houses belonging to Christians in western Baghdad but no one was hurt. Last week, an al-Qaida-linked group claimed responsibility for the church attack and threatened more violence against Iraq's Christian community.
The threat left many Christians in the country wondering whether it was time to flee their homeland.
"We were terrified by the explosions," said Juleit Hana, a 33-year-old Christian who lives in one of the neighborhoods targeted Wednesday. She was having breakfast with her daughter when she heard the bombs go off. She vowed to leave the country.
"It's not worth staying in a country where the government is not able to protect you even when you are sitting in your house."
The new attacks struck as Iraq's minority Christian community was still in shock over the massacre at Baghdad's main Catholic cathedral, Our Lady of Salvation.
Even for a nation used to daily violence after years of war, the killings at the hands of Islamic militants shocked Iraqis. It was the worst attack against the Christian minority since the 2003-U.S. led invasion unleashed fierce sectarian fighting between Shiite and Sunni Muslim sects that killed tens of thousands of civilians.
Iraq's top Catholic prelate, Chaldean Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly has encouraged the country's remaining 1.5 million Christians to stay in the country and called on the authorities for more protection. Catholic officials estimate more than 1 million Christians have fled the country since Saddam Hussein's regime fell.
Amal, a 50-year-old Christian resident of eastern Baghdad who only gave her first name for fear of retribution, said the attacks won't succeed at driving Christians out.
"We are Iraqis and those attackers want us to leave," said Amal, a mother of four. "We've lived in Iraq for so long. It our home."
In Wednesday's violence, police and hospital officials said five people were killed and 20 injured. It was not immediately clear whether any Christians were among the casualties. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Younadem Kana, a Christian member of the Iraqi parliament, condemned the violence and blamed police and military for failing to protect the Christian community even after they boosted security at churches around the capital.
"These attacks are not targeting only Christians, but also the government that has promised to protect the Christians," Kana said. He added that Wednesday's bombings exposed "grave flaws in the structure and the work of Iraq's security forces."
He said attacks will continue as long as Iraq remains without a government that represents all Iraqis.
The country's political leaders are to meet in Baghdad Wednesday for the third consecutive day for talks focused on the formation of a new government. For the past eight months since March 7 elections, Iraqi politicians have failed to agree on a government that would include the Sunni-backed coalition led by Ayad Allawi, which narrowly defeated Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Shiite-dominated bloc.
At stake is whether Iraq has an inclusive government of both the majority Shiites and the minority Sunnis or a Shiite-dominated government with the Sunnis largely in opposition — a recipe that many worry will turn the country back to the sectarian violence of a few years ago.
Associated Press writer Sameer N. Yacoub in Amman, Jordan contributed to this report.