Attacks on Christians in Iraqi city raise concern

Baghdad, Iraq - An Iraqi archbishop expressed concern Wednesday over what he called a "campaign of killings and deportations" against Christians in the northern city of Mosul after police reported seven Christians killed in separate attacks this month.

A female suicide bomber also blew herself up near government offices in Baqouba, northeast of the capital, killing 11 people, Iraqi officials said.

The violence in both cities occurred despite U.S.-Iraqi operations launched over the summer aimed at routing al-Qaida in Iraq and other insurgents from remaining strongholds north of the capital.

Iraqi police in Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, have reported finding the bullet-riddled bodies of seven Christians in separate attacks so far in October, the latest a day laborer found on Wednesday.

The others included a clothing store owner, a teenager, two other day laborers, a pharmacy employee and a handicapped man who owns a spare parts store, police said. Iraqis have their religions listed on government-issued ID cards.

"We are worried about the campaign of killings and deportations against the Christian citizens in Mosul," Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako said in a statement.

"Such violations are damaging the national unity," Sako said. "The Christians want only to live in peace and harmony and to work together with all Iraqis for the benefit of Iraq."

Sako is based in the northern city of Kirkuk but has overseen the Christian community in Mosul since the killing of Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho, whose body was found in March after he was kidnapped by gunmen following Mass.

The Christian community has been estimated at 3 percent of Iraq's 26 million people, or about 800,000 Christians.

Islamic extremists have frequently targeted them since the 2003 U.S. invasion, forcing tens of thousands to flee the country. Attacks had tapered off amid a drastic decline in overall violence nationwide, but concerns are rising about the deaths this month.

The Iraqi Democratic Assyrian Movement, the main Christian political group in Iraq, also accused local authorities in Mosul of failing to protect the Christian population.

"We call upon the government to shoulder its responsibilities in providing security and in stopping the bloodshed of innocent people," the group said in a statement.

Christian leaders have been lobbying the Iraqi parliament to pass a law that would set aside a number of seats for minorities in upcoming provincial elections, saying they fear being further sidelined in the Islamic country.

The explosion in Baqouba occurred just before noon across the street from the city's courthouse, shattering nearby storefronts and leaving pools of blood on the pavement.

"We were inside the court building when we heard a thunderous explosion followed by people's cries," said Abu Mohammed, a 55-year-old lawyer. "We rushed outside the building. We couldn't see anything because smoke was everywhere."

Abu Mohammed, who would give only his nickname for security reasons, said the target appeared to be Iraqi army Humvees parked nearby.

Those killed included five Iraqi soldiers, three policemen and three civilians, according to police and hospital officials. They said 19 people were wounded.

The Iraqi officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.

The U.S. military said seven people _ five Iraqi soldiers and two civilians _ were killed and 21 civilians were wounded. Conflicting casualty tolls are common in Iraq.

A company of U.S. soldiers was on its first combat patrol when it responded to the attack.

"It's a cold realization that it's not just pictures. It's real and it's really happening. American soldiers aren't here for nothing. These people need the help," said Spc. Duztin Watson, 24, of Houston.