Iraqi Christians living in fear as 11 bombs explode in Baghdad, killing five

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The Independent Online

Christians in Iraq came under attack again yesterday when 11 roadside bombs exploded in three areas of Baghdad killing five people. The bombings are part of an al-Qa'ida campaign against Iraq's ancient Christian community, many of whom have already fled abroad.

It was the third round of attacks since five suicide bombers stormed the Catholic cathedral, Our Lady of Salvation, on 31 October, killing 56 Christians and 12 others according to police.

The massacre was the worst atrocity against Christians since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

The number of bombs that exploded yesterday shows that al-Qa'ida in Iraq operating under the guise of its umbrella organisation, the Islamic State of Iraq, retains the ability to launch multiple attacks on different targets. This is despite claims by the government and US officers that they have eliminated the majority of al-Qa'ida commanders.

The roadside bombs went off within the space of an hour in areas where Christians live. Four houses belonging to them were hit by the blasts and, in addition, two mortar rounds were fired at Christians in the largely Sunni district of Dora in the south of the city.

The number of Christians in Baghdad has fallen from 400,000 to 100,000 in the last seven years, according to the German NGO The Society for Threatened Peoples. It says that Christians who remain no longer dare identify themselves by sending their children to Christian schools or by attending mass. Some Iraqi Christian leaders say that the violence against their community has become so extreme that Christians should leave the country.

Christian clergy in Iraq estimate that one million from their community have fled while a further 1.5 million are still in the country, though these figures look much too high.

In a statement the Islamic State of Iraq justified the massacre in the cathedral by claiming that the Coptic Church in Egypt was holding two women who have converted to Islam. It said: "The Ministry of War in the Islamic State of Iraq announces that all Christian institutions, organisations, centres, leaders and followers are legitimate targets for the Mujahedin [holy warriors] wherever they can find them."

Christians have called on the government to protect them and there is general anger in Baghdad that the 1,500 army and police checkpoints in the city are so ineffective in stopping bombers. It is also becoming clear that the Iraqi government's numerous intelligence organisations have failed to penetrate and disrupt al-Qa'ida's cells in Baghdad, Mosul and other cities with a large Sunni population. The Christians are particularly vulnerable because, outside rural areas in Nineveh province in northern Iraq, they are not numerous enough to have their own militia.

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