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Iraqi Christians Speed Exodus to North Iraq

BAGHDAD (AFP) -- An exodus of Christians to the autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq's north has accelerated after a spate of attacks against the minority group, according to the International Organization for Migration.

An official from the organisation also spoke Sunday of reports that many Christians were either leaving Iraq, or planning to emigrate.

By the end of January, 1,078 families had moved to the three provinces that comprise Iraqi Kurdistan since an October 31 attack on a church in Baghdad by Al-Qaeda militants left 44 worshippers and two priests dead, IOM figures show.

A total of 331 families moved in the six weeks immediately following that attack, while a further 747 have left the rest of Iraq for Kurdistan between December 15 and the end of January.

"Our monitors do report though that they are hearing of many emigrations abroad, and many more who hope to emigrate in the future," IOM Displacement Monitoring Officer Keegan de Lancie told AFP, noting that the organisation only tracked figures for internal displacement.

"Colleagues in Turkey have reported a spike in Christian families seeking refuge there, and I myself have encountered recently displaced Christian families from (the northern Iraqi province of) Nineveh here in Amman where I'm based," he added.

De Lancie said IOM monitoring shows that an average Christian Iraqi family consists of four to five members.

The report noted that "monitors in Baghdad report that Christians continue to face grave threats" and "despite increased security measures an atmosphere of extreme insecurity persists among Christians remaining in Baghdad and many still intend to move or emigrate."

The October 31 attack on the Baghdad church was the biggest in a spate of violence targeting Christians. Just 10 days after the siege, a series of attacks against Christian shops and homes in Baghdad killed six and left 33 wounded.

And on December 31, violence against 15 Christian homes in several Baghdad neighbourhoods left two dead.

Between 800,000 and 1.2 million Christians lived in Iraq before the US-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein in 2003, but that figure now is estimated by religious leaders at 400,000.


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