Christian areas targeted in deadly Baghdad attacks

The BBC's Jim Muir in Baghdad explains how Christian areas were specifically targeted in the attacks

A series of bomb and mortar attacks targeting Christian areas has killed at least five people in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.

Six districts with strong Christian majorities were hit - more than 30 people have been injured.

The attacks come days after Islamist militants seized a Catholic cathedral and more than 40 were killed.

Top-level talks in the city have so far failed to resolve the country's political crisis.

Iraq's political leaders have been negotiating the formation of a new government since inconclusive elections in March.

Prime Minister Nouri Maliki said the talks would resume on Wednesday and would be "the beginning of forming not just the government, but forming the Iraqi state".

Threat

Police said the predominantly Christian areas of Camp Sara, Sinaa Street and al-Ghadeer in central Baghdad were among the districts hit in Wednesday's attack, according to the Associated Press.

Analysis

The spate of attacks came as the ancient Christian communities here were agonising over whether to stay in Iraq or try to leave.

Since 2003, the Christian population - then estimated at somewhat less than a million - has dwindled to roughly half that size, following a number of bomb attacks on churches and abductions or killings of priests and other Christians.

The emigration has continued, and it would be surprising if it does not accelerate further, despite calls from Church and political leaders in Baghdad for Christians to remain.

The bombings showed that the militants are capable of carrying out co-ordinated attacks in different parts of the city against targets of their own choosing.

"Two mortar shells and 10 home-made bombs targeted the homes of Christians in different neighbourhoods of Baghdad between 0600 and 0800 (0300 and 0500 GMT)," an unnamed official told AFP news agency.

An interior ministry source, quoted anonymously by Reuters, said the attacks were directly linked to the siege of the cathedral.

"These operations, which targeted Christians, came as a continuation of the attack that targeted the Salvation church," the source said.

The BBC's Jim Muir, in Baghdad, says it is unclear whether Christians were killed. However the intention is clear - to underline a threat from the so-called Islamic State for Iraq, an umbrella group linked to al-Qaeda, that all Christians in the country are now a legitimate target.

Iraqi Christians said they knew who was behind the violence.

"There is no need to say who is behind this. It is obvious. We do not want to say who or from which side. The church attack before and now this - it is obvious," a man named only as Emad said, according to Reuters.

Juleit Hana, a 33-year-old Christian living in the area targeted, said she was terrified by the attacks and would try to leave Iraq.

"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," she told AP.

The Vatican said the attacks had caused "terrible suffering for all the Christian communities in the world" and called on the Iraqi government to do more to protect Christians in the country, Italian news agencies reported.

The UN Security Council said it was "appalled by and condemned in the strongest terms the recent spate of terrorist attacks" in Iraq, which it said had "deliberately targeted locations where civilans congregate".

'Panicked'

ATTACKS ON IRAQI CHRISTIANS SINCE 2003

A woman prays in Baghdad's Syrian Catholic Church, days after it was targeted
  • Aug 2004 - series of bombings targets five churches, killing 11 people
  • October 2006 - Orthodox priest Fr Boulos Iskander snatched in Mosul by group demanding ransom. Despite payment of the ransom, Fr Iskander was found beheaded and with his limbs amputated
  • June 2007 - Fr Ragheed Ganni - a priest and secretary to Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahh, killed in 2008 - shot dead in his church along with three companions
  • January 2008 - Bombs go off outside three Chaldean and Assyrian churches in Mosul, two churches in Kirkuk and four in Baghdad
  • February 2008 - Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahh kidnapped; body found in shallow grave two weeks later
  • April 2008 - Fr Adel Youssef, an Assyrian Orthodox priest, shot dead by unknown assailants
  • February 2010 - At least eight Christians die in a two-week spate of attacks in northern city of Mosul

The Baghdad attacks came a day after Mr Maliki visited the Syrian Catholic cathedral where 44 Christian worshippers, two priests and seven security forces personnel died after it was seized by Islamist militants and then stormed by troops.

The Islamic State of Iraq has claimed responsibility for the cathedral attack, saying it wanted to force the release of converts to Islam allegedly being detained by the Coptic Church in Egypt.

A total of 34 Iraqi Christians and a Muslim guard wounded in the 31 October cathedral attack were flown to France for treatment, where the country's immigration minister said asylum would be granted to those who sought it.

Over the weekend, a senior Iraqi cleric in London called on Iraqi Christians to flee the country because it was so dangerous.

"If we stay, they will kill us," Archbishop Athanasios Dawood said after addressing a congregation of Iraqi Orthodox Christians at a service in the UK capital.

However, in Iraq itself, church and political leaders have urged the Christian communities to stay in the country where they have been based for more than 2,000 years.

Catholic representatives in the city said the community was now frightened and confused.

"People are panicked. They come to see us in the churches to ask what they should do. We are shattered by what has happened," said Saad Sirap Hanna, a priest at Baghdad's Saint Joseph church, according to AFP.

Christians - many from ancient denominations - have been leaving Iraq in droves since the US-led invasion in 2003, and about 600,000 remain.

Map

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