Al Qaeda militants are being blamed for the deadly Christmas bombings in Iraq which claimed at least 37 lives.
The Christian community in Baghdad was targeted on Christmas Day in
three near-simultaneous bombings at St John’s Catholic church, where 26
died, and at a marketplace in the nearby Assyrian Christian district.
The car bomb at St John’s was timed specifically to coincide with the
departure of Chriwstian worshippers from the church after Christmas
Mass. Over 50 people were seriously injured in the blasts.
The attacks immediately drew comparison with the deadly 2010 assault
on the Syriac Catholic church of Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad, in
which 58 people were murdered by members of the al Qaeda-linked group
the Islamic State of Iraq (currently one of the most active against
Christian communities in Syria).
Significantly, the latest bombings came in the wake of an agreement
by the government of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki to recognise
Christmas as a national holiday.
In response to a request for such a
move by Chaldean Patriarch Raphael Louis Sako I towards stemming the
continuing flight of Christians from Iraq, the government declared
Christmas a holiday for all Iraqis.
However, the move may have inadvertently prompted Sunni militants to
identify the already hated Christian community as supporting the
unpopular Shia government, which is currently leading a major military
offensive in Anbar province against militants, including al Qaeda.
The neighbourhood where St John’s church is located was formerly home
to a Christian population of some 30,000 families. Since the 2003
invasion of Iraq and post-occupation violence, that number has shrunk to
an estimated 2,000. Across Iraq, a former Christian population of two
million is now believed to be just 300,000.