3 dead, 26 hurt as Iraqi Christians attacked
Baghdad - A spate of early morning bomb and mortar attacks on homes of Christians in Baghdad on Wednesday left at least three people dead and 26 wounded, an interior ministry official said.
"Two mortar shells and 10 homemade bombs targeted the homes of Christians in different neighbourhoods of Baghdad between 06:00 and 08:00," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"The toll is three dead and 26 wounded."
The attacks come 10 days after 44 Christian worshippers, two priests and seven security forces personnel died during the seizure of a Baghdad cathedral by Islamist militants and the ensuing shootout when it was stormed by troops.
On Tuesday, three homes in the Mansur district of western Baghdad belonging to Christians were firebombed without causing any casualties, an interior ministry source said.
On November 3, al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the Baghdad cathedral bloodbath and warned it would further step up attacks on Christians.
Emigration not encouraged
The extremists said they had carried out the church attack to force the release of converts to Islam allegedly being detained by the Coptic Church in Egypt. Days afterwards it declared Christians everywhere "legitimate targets".
A senior Iraqi clergyman said at the weekend Iraq's Christians should leave the country or face being killed at the hands of al-Qaeda. "If they stay they will be finished, one by one," Archbishop Athanasios Dawood told the BBC.
Iraq's premier however on Tuesday cautioned other countries not to encourage Christians to abandon their homeland, after France took in dozens of people wounded in the October 31 cathedral attack.
On his first visit to the church targeted on October 31, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said that at a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI in 2008 he had asked the pontiff "not to let the east be emptied of Christians, nor the West of Muslims".
"The countries that have welcomed the victims ... of this attack (on the church) have done a noble thing, but that should not encourage emigration," he said on a visit to the Syriac Catholic cathedral where the massacre occurred.
Thirty-four Iraqi Christians and a Muslim guard wounded in the incident flew in to France on Monday for admission to hospitals for treatment.
Evacuation flight planned
French immigration minister Eric Besson has said this fitted France's "tradition of asylum" to take them in, and that asylum would be "handed out generously" to those who seek it.
France plans a second evacuation flight in the coming weeks to bring out a further 93 Christians.
Besson said that 1 300 Iraqi Christians had been granted asylum in France since autumn 2007, an acceptance rate of 85% for asylum-seekers from among the community.
An estimated 800 000 Christians lived in Iraq before the US-led invasion of 2003 but that number has since shrunk to around 500 000 in the face of repeated attacks against their community and churches.
Christians in Baghdad have now dwindled to around 150 000, a third of their former population in the capital.