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Fourth Assyrian Killed in Northern Iraq in As Many Days

MOSUL, Iraq (AFP) -- A Christian student was found dead in the main northern Iraqi city of Mosul on Wednesday, the fourth in as many days, amid warnings of rising violence against the minority ahead of March 7 polls.

The bullet-riddled body of Wissam George, a 20-year-old Assyrian Christian, was recovered on a street in the south Mosul residential neighbourhood of Wadi al-Ain at around 1:00 pm (1000 GMT).

"George went missing this morning on his way to his institute, he was studying to be a teacher," said a police officer, speaking on condition of anonymity.

George is the fourth Christian since Sunday to be killed in the city, which has a Christian population of between 2,000 and 3,000.

"What can we say?" said Bishop Shlemon Warduni, the second-most-senior Chaldean bishop in Iraq.

"We are very sad. The government is looking at what is going on, it is speaking, but doing nothing," he told AFP.

On Tuesday, a gunman killed 21-year-old engineering student Zia Toma and wounded 22-year-old pharmacy student Ramsin Shmael, both Assyrian Christians.

Greengrocer Fatukhi Munir was gunned down inside his shop in a drive-by shooting late on Monday, and armed assailants killed Rayan Salem Elias, a Chaldean, outside his home on Sunday.

"We don't want elections, we don't want representatives, we don't want our rights, we just want to be alive," Baasil Abdul Noor, a priest at Mar Behnam church, said on Tuesday.

"It has become a nightmare. The security forces should not be standing by and watching. We hold them responsible, because they are supposed to be protecting us, and protecting all Iraqis."

Others have expressed concern that Christians could be targeted ahead of the elections, seen as a key test of reconciliation in Iraq, which has been wracked by sectarian violence since the US-led invasion of 2003.

"The Christian minority has become an issue in the elections, as it always is before elections," said Hazem Girgis, a deacon at a Syrian Orthodox church in the city centre.

"We are terrified... and the security forces are not able to offer us any security," said Girgis.

Attacks occur frequently in Mosul and surrounding Nineveh province.

Human Rights Watch warned in November that minorities in the north including Christians were the collateral victims of a conflict between Arabs and Kurds over who controls Iraq's disputed northern provinces.

In late 2008, a systematic campaign of killings and targeted violence killed 40 Christians and saw more than 12,000 flee Mosul.

By Mujahid Mohammed


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