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Iraqi PM Cautions Against Open Door to Iraq Christian Immigration

BAGHDAD (AFP) -- Iraq's prime minister on Tuesday cautioned other countries not to encourage Christians to abandon their homeland, after France took in dozens of people wounded in a bloodbath at a Baghdad church.

In the latest attacks on the minority community, meanwhile, three homes in the Mansur district of western Baghdad belonging to Christians were firebombed without causing any casualties, an interior ministry source said.

The attacks came after a November 3 warning from Al-Qaeda that it would step up attacks on Christians.

On his first visit to the church targeted on October 31, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said that at a meeting with Benedict XVI in 2008 he had asked the pope "not to let the east be emptied of Christians, nor the West of Muslims."

"The countries that have welcomed the victims ... of this attack (on the church) have done a noble thing, but that should not encourage emigration," he said on a visit to the Syriac Catholic cathedral where the massacre occurred.

In all, 44 worshippers, two priests and seven security forces personnel died during the seizure of the cathedral by Islamist militants and the ensuing shootout when it was stormed by troops.

Around 60 people were wounded in the bloodbath and France swiftly offered to provide specialist treatment for those with the most serious injuries.

France is the only country to have offered to take in victims of the attack.

Thirty-four Iraqi Christians and a Muslim guard wounded in the incident flew in to France overnight on Monday for admission to hospitals for treatment.

French Immigration Minister Eric Besson has said this fitted France's "tradition of asylum" to take them in, and that asylum would be "handed out generously" to those who seek it.

An estimated 800,000 Christians lived in Iraq before the US-led invasion of 2003 but that number has since shrunk to around 500,000 in the face of repeated attacks against their community and churches.

Christians in Baghdad have now dwindled to around 150,000, a third of their former population in the capital.

On Sunday, a senior Iraqi clergyman said Iraq's Christians should leave the country or face being killed at the hands of Al-Qaeda. "If they stay they will be finished, one by one," Archbishop Athanasios Dawood told the BBC.


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