At least fourteen Christian Iraqis killed in wave of suicide attacks on churches

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The Independent Online

Fourteen Iraqi Christians were believed dead last night and at least 60 wounded after car bombs were detonated at five churches in Baghdad and Mosul crowded with congregations at evening services.

Fourteen Iraqi Christians were believed dead last night and at least 60 wounded after car bombs were detonated at five churches in Baghdad and Mosul crowded with congregations at evening services.

The co-ordinated atrocity, timed to cause the maximum carnage, is the first time insurgents have targeted Iraq's 750,000-strong Christian minority, most of whom live in Baghdad, where four of the five attacks were made last night.

The bloodiest assault was at the Chaldean church in the southern Baghdad neighbourhood of Doura where a witness spoke of seeing at least 12 bodies and human remains scattered across the church's precincts.

US military and Iraqi security forces cordoned off the areas as worshippers, many bleeding from wounds caused by flying glass and debris, fled the churches. Police said at least two of the blasts were caused by suicide bombers. Two of the other Baghdad explosions were in the central Karada neighbourhood. The US military found an unexploded bomb outside another church nearby.

In the northern city of Mosul, a car bomb detonated at 7pm just as worshippers were leaving evening Mass at the Catholic church. Captain Angela Bowman, for the US military, said four people were wounded and rocket-propelled grenades had also been fired at the church. Ghaleb Wadeea, a 50-year-old engineer, said the bomb had been inside a white Toyota.

As plumes of black smoke rose above the wreckage at the two churches in the Karada district, Marwan Saqiq, one of the worshippers covered in blood, said: "We were in the Mass and suddenly we heard a big boom and I couldn't feel my body any more. I saw people taking me out with the wood and glass shattered everywhere."

As firemen, amid shards of stained glass, fought the flames which engulfed three cars outside the Armenian church in Karada, Juliet Agob, who was in the church when a bomb exploded, said: "I saw injured women and children, and the church's glass shattered everywhere. There's glass all over the floor." Omar Hussein, 25, a metalworker, saida: "These operations are aimed at creating strife between Christians Shias Sunnis and others; nothing more, nothing less."

There have been indications that the Christians were in danger. Christians running liquor stores had been warned to shut down But one interior ministry official suggested the attacks might have been intended to cause outrage in the countries of coalition forces in Iraq.

There were three other attacks earlier yesterday. In a suicide bombing in Mosul, five people were killed when a white four-wheel-drive vehicle careered into concrete barriers outside a police station and detonated after a police guard had shot the driver dead.

A US soldier and two others were wounded in Samarra, a stronghold of Sunni resistance. And in central Baghdad a roadside bomb apparently aimed at a US patrol killed two civilians and wounded at least two others, including a BBC driver. The BBC said he was in hospital with head injuries which were "not life-threatening".

The hopes for Saudi-backed plans to send in a multinational Muslim force to increase security while scaling down US troop levels, dwindled yesterday after they were rejected by two potential contributing countries.

Muslim responses to the proposal, ranging from cool to hostile, compounded doubts already evident within the US administration over whether the idea of an Islamic stabilisation force to supplement the presence of its own troops can work. Algeria's Foreign Minister, Abdelaziz Belkhadem, said: "The Algerian army has never sent forces to any country. Algeria will not send troops to Iraq." And while Bangladesh declined any official comment in the absence of a formal request for troops, the New Age newspaper in Dhaka quoted a Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying: "We have said time and again that we will not send out troops unless under the command of the United Nations."

Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, reportedly expressed considerable private scepticism about the proposal during his tour last week of the Middle East.