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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
30 January 2006

IRAQ: Sectarian tensions on the rise

BAGHDAD, 30 Jan 2006 (IRIN) - Five simultaneous bomb attacks that appear to have targeted churches and the Vatican embassy have raised concerns among Iraqi Christians about rising sectarian tensions.

In the wake of the car bombs which exploded on 29 January outside two churches and the Vatican embassy in the capital, Baghdad, and two churches in the northern city of Kirkuk, Christian families are reportedly leaving the country in fear of more violence.

“We’ve heard of dozens of families preparing to leave Iraq, afraid of more attacks,” said Farah Annuar, spokesman for the Christian Organisation of Iraq.

Sixteen people are reported to have been killed and 20 injured in the coordinated attacks.

Christians make up about three percent of the population of Iraq, or an estimated 800,000 people, according to a 2005 census. Kirkuk is home to the second biggest Christian community after Baghdad.

“I don’t want to lose my children due to political problems,” said Rita Paolo, a mother of two, as she made preparations to leave. “I will take them to Jordan to live far away from this discrimination and anger.”

Taxi drivers specialised in ferrying passengers to Jordan and Syria reported that nearly all reservations made within the last 24 hours were from Christian families seeking to leave the country.

“More than 20 Christian families have booked our services until next Friday,” said Yaub Haki, owner of a taxi company in the capital’s Mansour district. “This normally happens only during the holidays. Usually we have only one or two families per month.”

On Monday, 400 local Christian clerics demonstrated in Baghdad against the violence. Many protestors opined that the targeting of Christian institutions was a direct result of foreign occupation.

“Christians are being forced to leave Iraq after years of peace,” said Fr. Ismael Kardush, an Orthodox Christian cleric participating in the demonstration. “They can’t target the Americans, so they target us for having the same religion, even if we’re fellow Arabs.”

“The government should do something to protect us," Kardush added.

The latest bombing is not the first time that attacks appeared to target areas associated with the Christian community. In August 2004, at least 12 people were killed and dozens injured in a spate of bombings that targeted Christians in Baghdad and Mosul.

According to local organisations, about 150,000 Christians are believed to have left the country since the US occupation began in 2003.

“Every day, we try to help our Christian brothers leave Iraq for different destinations,” said Annuar, “especially for countries offering sanctuary to refugees”.

“But after the last incident, I think we have lost our country, and the best thing to do is to leave it,” he added.


This material comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but May not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2006

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