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1,000 Christian Families Flee North Iraqi City: Governor

MOSUL, Iraq (AFP) -- Nearly 1,000 Christian families have fled their homes in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul following the worst wave of violence against them in five years, provincial governor Duraid Kashmula said on Saturday.

The Christians had taken shelter over the past 24 hours in schools and churches in the northern and eastern fringes of Nineveh province after attacks that have killed at least 11 Christians since September 28, Kashumula said.

At least three homes of Christians were blown up by unidentified attackers in the Sukkar district of Mosul, regarded by US and Iraqi security forces of one of the last urban bastions of the Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

"The (violence) is the fiercest campaign against the Christians since 2003," Kashmula said. "Among those killed over the past 11 days were a doctor, an engineer and a handicapped person."

The latest flight came as Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako this week called on the US military as well as the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to protect Christians and other minorities in the face of a rash of deadly attacks.

In a recent interview with AFP, Sako called on the Americans to do more to protect Christians and other minorities.

"We are the target of a campaign of liquidation, a campaign of violence. The objective is political," Sako said.

He said that since the US-led invasion of 2003, more than 200 Christians had been killed and a string of churches attacked, and added that the violence had intensified in recent weeks, particularly in the north.

It was now time for Prime Minister Maliki's Shiite Muslim-led government to deliver on repeated promises to do more to protect Iraq's minorities, Sako said.

"We have heard many words from Prime Minister Maliki, but unfortunately this has not translated into reality," he said. "We continue to be targeted. We want solutions, not promises."

There were around 800,000 Christians in Iraq at the time of the US-led invasion, a number that has now shrunk by a third as the faithful have fled the country, the archbishop said.

He said Christians are dependent on the government and its US backers for protection. Unlike the Shiite majority, the Sunni Arab former elite or the Kurds, they have no powerful tribes or militias to defend them.

"The Christians of Iraq are not militias or tribes to defend themselves, we have a bitter feeling of injustice, because innocent people are killed and we do not know why," he said.

Christians used to pay protection money to insurgents groups, but the increase in violence in the past few months has forced some villages to start organising their own fighting forces to protect themselves.

In March, the body of the Chaldean archbishop of Mosul, Paul Faraj Rahho, was found in a shallow grave in the city two weeks after he was kidnapped.

Rahho, 65, was abducted during a shootout in which three of his companions were killed as he returned home from celebrating mass on February 29.

In Baghdad, gunmen shot dead a Syrian Orthodox priest, Youssef Adel, near his home in the city centre in April in an attack condemned by Pope Benedict XVI.

Former archbishop of Canterbury Lord George Carey has warned that the ethnic cleansing of Christians from Iraq had intensified since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

Iraq's Christian community includes various denominations, including Syrian Orthodox and Catholic, and Armenian Orthodox and Roman Catholic congregations.


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