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Iraq's Christian Community Hit By New Wave of Attacks
By Adrian Blomfield

Suspected Islamist militants detonated 11 bombs in Christian suburbs across the Iraqi capital, striking indiscriminately at shops and homes owned by members of the increasingly vulnerable minority. At least five Christians were killed and a further 33 wounded, among them a four-month-old baby.

The attacks came less than a fortnight after extremists linked to al-Qaeda blew themselves up during evening mass at Baghdad's main Syriac Catholic church, killing over 50 worshippers.

In the aftermath of the church massacre, The Islamic State of Iraq, an al-Qaeda front, announced its intention to open upon the country's Christians "the doors of destruction and rivers of blood."

With yesterday's attacks giving extra gravity to the threat against them, Iraq's Christian clergy warned they were in danger of becoming forgotten by the West.

"It would be criminal on the part of the international community not to take care of the security of the Christians," said Athanase Matoka, the Syrian archbishop of Baghdad.

"Everybody is scared. People are asking who is going to protect them, how are they going to stay on in Iraq."

One of the world's oldest Christian communities, Iraq's Eastern Rite Catholics have long been in the sights of Islamist insurgents. Since Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003, their numbers have halved to just 400,000.

Unlike other sectarian groups in Iraq, they do not have an armed militia to defend them, making them more vulnerable to attack.

Earlier this week, a leading Iraqi clergyman accused the Iraqi government of abandoning Christians to a campaign of "premeditated ethnic cleansing".

Athanasius Dawood, archbishop of the Syriac Orthodox Church, said the only hope of salvation for Iraqi Christians lay with Britain and other EU states.

"The Iraqi government is week, biased, if not extremist," he said. "I ask the British government again to help the Iraqi Christians and grant them the rights of humanitarian asylum."

Some Christians in Baghdad said the latest attacks had convinced them that there was no point in staying in Baghdad.

"It's not worth staying in a country where the government is not even able to protect you when you are sitting in your house," said Juliet Hana, who was eating breakfast with her young daughter when the bombs began to detonate in nearby houses.


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