|"Debris at the site of the attack at the marketplace in Baghdad." (Reuters)|
The Guardian, December 25, 2013
"Iraq's Christians celebrated Christmas behind blast walls and barbed wire as at least 37 people were killed in bomb attacks in Christian areas, some by a car bomb near a church after a service. Earlier, two bombs ripped through a nearby outdoor market simultaneously in the Christian section of Athorien, killing 11 people and wounding 21, an officer said. The Iraq-based leader of the Chaldean Catholic church, Louis Sako, said the parked car bomb had exploded after a Christmas mass in the capital's southern Dora neighbourhood, killing at least 26 people and wounding 38. He said none of the worshippers had been hurt, and he did not believe the church was the target. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks, but Iraq's dwindling Christian community, which is estimated to number about 400,000 to 600,000 people, has often been targeted by al-Qaida and other insurgents who see the Christians as heretics. Other targets include civilians in restaurants, cafes or crowded public areas, as well as Shias and members of the security forces, attacked in an attempt to undermine confidence in the Shia-led government and stir up Iraq's already simmering sectarian tensions.
A medical official confirmed the casualty figures. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to talk to the media. Wednesday's bombings came amid a massive military operation in Iraq's western desert as authorities try to hunt down insurgents who have stepped up attacks across Iraq in the past months, sending violence to levels not seen since 2008. The Christmas Day attacks brought the total number of people killed this month in Iraq to 441. According to UN estimates, more than 8,000 have been killed this year. On Christmas Eve, the Mar Yousif Syriac Catholic church in western Baghdad looked like a walled fortress. Soldiers and police ran bomb detectors across cars, searched trunks and bags and patted down visitors before the evening ceremony. Inside, the red-confetti-strewn Christmas tree, bright blue-and-white tile mosaic and strings of Santa-Claus-themed bunting contrasted with drab streets strewn with concrete blocks and barbed wire outside. But pews that would have overflowed with worshippers a few years ago were barely two-thirds full -- a reflection of the fact that the Christian community has fallen from about 1.5 million before the US-led invasion to about half that. 'The future is very critical because of immigration,' said the human rights activist William Warda before Tuesday night's service, estimating that 10 to 20 Christians were still leaving the country each day. 'Many Christians ... are fleeing from the country because of this issue, because there is no sign of a bright future.'"
[n.b. This is the complete text of the dispatch.]