Iraqi Christians slowly returning home to Mosul

Baghdad, Iraq - Iraqi Christians have started to trickle home to the restive city of Mosul in recent days as attacks against them have tapered off, authorities said Friday.

Jawdat Ismaeel, a local migration official in Mosul, said Christians are no longer fleeing the northern city following a spate of threats and killings earlier this month. Sunni insurgents are believed to be behind the campaign to drive them out.

"Christian families have stopped leaving and started to come back to their houses in different neighborhoods in Mosul," Ismaeel said.

He said 35 Christian families, or about 210 people, have returned.

The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, has condemned the violence and is trying to lure Christians back to Mosul by offering each family that returns 1 million Iraqi dinars _ about $865. The initial response to the offer has been lukewarm, however, according to local officials.

Ismaeel said the migration department has also granted Christian government workers and students a leave of absence from work and class until Nov. 1.

In Baghdad, meanwhile, some 300 people rallied in front of a Chaldean church in support of Iraqi Christians and to condemn the attacks against them.

"I am sure that 99 percent of Iraqis are sympathizing with Christians," the Rev. Louis al-Shabi told those gathered. "This is a good indication of the unity and love among Iraqi people."

Attacks against Christians and other minorities in Iraq had tapered off amid a drastic decline in overall violence nationwide. But some 1,800 Christians families, or 13,000 people, were chased away by threats and extremist attacks in Mosul earlier this month.

That is over half the community in a city where Christians have lived since the early days of the religion.

Since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have fled the country in the face of violence by Islamic extremist.