Iraqis Decry Attacks on Christians

By Scott Baldauf and Dan Murphy writers of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, August 3, 2004 | Go to article overview
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Iraqis Decry Attacks on Christians

Scott Baldauf and Dan Murphy writers of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor

A rare display of violence against Christians here may signal that Sunni insurgents are broadening their effort to destabilize Iraq and stir up differences between Islam and other faiths.

Bombing attacks against churches in Baghdad and Mosul Sunday night killed at least 11 and injured dozens more. The explosions were a strong show of force and coordination by jihadi elements that the interim government has called the biggest threat to Iraq's stability.

Many Iraqis reject these wedge efforts and express frustration with civilian attacks. But there are few signs that terrorist cells have been disrupted. In fact, as the Iraqi government shores up security at police stations and other high-visibility locations, insurgents are increasingly attacking vulnerable targets, like churches and truck drivers.

After graphic video of a Turkish hostage being killed by militants was posted on the Internet, the Turkish truckers' association announced Monday that it will no longer transport goods bound for US forces in Iraq, according to the Associated Press.

The detritus of calamity is evident outside the St. Peter and Paul Chaldean Catholic Church in Baghdad's Al Doura district.

The Rev. Faris Toma, pastor of St. Peter and Paul, spent the night comforting bereaved parishioners. Ten churchgoers were killed Sunday evening by a remote-control car bomb that went off just as church members headed out to the parking lot.

"Why do they kill all the Iraqi people?" he asks in exasperation. "Why don't they kill the Americans? They are the occupiers. We are innocent."

Attacks against Iraqi Christians have been rare up until now. While Christians have been targeted by kidnap-for-ransom gangs, and Christian-owned liquor stores have been destroyed by Shiite militias, these attacks were probably not sectarian.

The vast majority of Iraqis are comfortable with the country's Christian minority. Representatives of both Moqtada al-Sadr's militant Shiite group and Sunni political organizations condemned the attacks. "This is a cowardly act,'' Sadr spokesman Abdul Hadi al- Daraji told Al Jazeera television.

Iraq's most revered Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al- Sistani, also gave a rare response, calling the church bombings a "hideous crime."

Analysts say that Sunni militants with an ideology similar to Al Qaeda's were almost certainly behind the church bombings. Al Qaeda- linked groups, intolerant not just of Christians but of Muslim sects that don't share their views, have targeted churches in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Pakistan.

While Iraq has armed Shiite groups that have participated in attacks on US forces and been involved in the assassinations of political opponents, they haven't been known to use terrorist attacks on civilian targets.

Iraqi officials say they believe the attack was carried out by a cell connected to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian militant with Al Qaeda ties who has taken responsibility for a number of car- bombings inside Iraq.

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