People stand among debris at the site of a bomb attack at a marketplace in Baghdad’s Doura District December 25, 2013. The bomb attack came as Christians celebrated Christmas in churches across Iraq
Two bombs in Christian areas of the Iraqi capital Baghdad have killed at least 35 people, officials have said. One device exploded near a Catholic church when worshippers were leaving a Christmas Day service, killing 24. Another bomb ripped through a market, killing 11 more people. Christian leaders denied that the attacks had targeted worshipers.
Iraq’s ancient Christian community has more than halved in recent years, from an estimated population of 900,000. Both blasts happened in the Doura area of Baghdad. The bomb outside St John’s Catholic church exploded in a parked car, shortly after a blast at an outdoor market in the mainly Christian al-Athorien district.
No one has yet admitted carrying out the attacks, which came as Christmas Day services were held across Iraq.
A surge in sectarian violence this year has claimed the lives of more than 7,000 civilians in Iraq, the highest annual number of fatalities since 2008. The conflict in Syria has also prompted a spike in attacks, many involving al-Qaeda in Iraq. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told the BBC on Sunday that the Syrian crisis was “feeding terrorism in the region”.
Iraq civilian deaths since 2008
Our Troops Celebrate Christmas in the War Zone:
Christmas decorations are seen outside a Church, as a U.S. army soldier with the NATO- led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) walks the Church on Christmas eve at the U.S.-led coalition base in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Dec. 24, 2013. (AP Photo/Musadeq Sadeq)
(Excerpted) While millions of Christians around the world prepare to celebrate Christmas, a dwindling number of believers in Iraq will be forced to mark the birth of Christ in private, if at all.
Iraq, which was once home to more than 1 million Christians, has seen an exodus as persecution has risen (and)…There are now an estimated 330,000 Christians in Iraq….making it the fourth most persecuting country, while North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan rank as the top three.
“We’re deeply concerned that Christianity is being squeezed out to extinction maybe in the next decade or so in the Middle East,” Curry said. “Some of these countries, especially Iraq, have environments that are very hostile because of extremists in the region.”
….Last week, Archbishop of Baghdad Louis Raphael I Sako told a conference in Rome that the West must help stem the “mortal exodus” of Christians from the Middle East.
A fraction of the 1.2 million Christians who lived and worshipped in Iraq in 1987 remain, Sako said, adding that the “numbers continue dropping.” The United Nations Committee for Refugees recently stated that 850,000 Iraqi Christians have left since 2003.