Christian Homes Targeted In Deadly Baghdad Attacks

Steve Inskeep speaks with NPR's Kelly McEvers in Baghdad about the latest attacks that have taken place in Christian areas of the city.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

A series of bombs targeted Christian homes and a Christian church in Baghdad today. The attacks come a week and a half after the attack on a Catholic church in which 52 people were killed. We're going now to NPR's Kelly McEvers. She's covering this story in Baghdad.

Kelly, what happened in these latest incidents?

KELLY MCEVERS: Police say the attacks were launched over the course of about two hours this morning, in neighborhoods that are known to be home to Christians. The targets were mostly private house and, like you said, one church. The bombs were all homemade bombs. A lot of them, police said, were hidden in trash bags. Actually, there were also a few attacks on Christians last night, as well. Those also targeted some areas were Christians live.

So far, we know that at least three people are dead and about 32 more are wounded.

INSKEEP: And do you have any idea why Christians in Baghdad would become a target now?

MCEVERS: Well, it all started with the church siege a week and a half ago. It was on a Sunday evening during Mass. Men dressed in military uniforms scaled the walls of the church. They shot some worshipers when they first entered. And then they rounded up about 100 more people and held them hostage.

After about a four hour standoff, an elite Iraqi counterterrorism unit stormed the church. And at that time militants detonated suicide vests. The scene the next day was just gruesome.

A group affiliated with al-Qaida in Iraq claimed responsibility for that operation. At the time, the group said it wanted to free Muslim women who were being held against their will in Coptic churches in Egypt.

But now it seems like the group is targeting Christians simply because they're Christians. Survivors of the church siege say militants called them infidels during the siege. And lately statements on jihadi websites are saying that Christians are legitimate targets.

INSKEEP: And this is a reminder that, even in a place like Iraq, you will find a certain number of Christians. They'll keep a low profile, but they're there.

MCEVERS: Yeah. Yeah. Before the war there were close to a million Christians in Iraq. That's about, you know, three percent of the population. Most of these Christians are Eastern Rite Catholics. It's thought, though, that about half of those have since left - since the American invasion. Some people are worried that these new attacks will, you know, cause a further exodus of Christians, especially from Baghdad.

The city at one time was a mix of Jews, Christians and Sunni and Shiite Muslims. You know, nowadays Jews are all but gone. And Sunnis and Shiites live completely separately from each other.

But dozens of Christians who were wounded in the church siege have been flown to Europe for treatment. Some say they won't come back. But in a service this past Sunday, some Christians did vow to stay on. They said they have a mission to, you know, keep the faith alive.

INSKEEP: Well, Kelly McEvers, has the Iraqi government reached out to Christians, made any effort to protect them in this situation?

MCEVERS: Yes. There's been some statements from the prime minister's office. You know, it's our duty to protect houses of worship. But, you know, the security situation is just deteriorating here.

It's not just attacks on Christians. I mean, there was a series of attacks last week, as well, in Shiite neighborhoods. You know, all of this, most analysts say, is just a way for militants to kind of go into the political vacuum that's been left by eight months of a stalemate.

You know, we still don't have a government here in Iraq. Political leaders are meeting today to come to some kind of resolution, but still they haven't come up with one.

INSKEEP: OK. Kelly, thanks very much.

MCEVERS: Mm-hmm.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Kelly McEvers reporting today, from Baghdad, where about two dozen bombs have exploded near Christian homes and a Christian church.

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