At least 35 Christians have been massacred in Baghdad over the past day in what may be a retaliation for stepped-up military action by the Iraqi government. Officials reported that militants targeted Christians on 3 separate occasions on Christmas day killing at least 37. The U.S. Embassy in Iraq has condemned the attacks, saying that they are targeting the dwindling population of Christians in Baghdad. The statement went on to say that the attacks were senseless and deliberate and that the militants were also targeting innocent civilians.
The most deadly attack occurred on Christmas day when a car bomb exploded near a church in the southern region of the capital. The bomb detonated after the Christmas service near the Chaldean Catholic Church. No church members were injured and the church leader Louis Sako felt the church was not the intended target. Officials reported that at least 26 were killed and 38 wounded. A second attack occurred in the largely Christian area of Athorien killing 11 and wounding 21. The second attack was a bomb detonation in a populated open market.
Although Sako feels the Christians from his church were not the target of the bombing, the U.S. Embassy released a statement saying that they denounced the attacks targeted at Christians on Christmas day in the area of Dora in Baghdad and that the Embassy is strongly opposed to any attacks targeting civilians. Along with Christian targets rebel militants have also hit civilians in cafes, restaurants and open markets. The anti-government forces have attacked Shiite Muslims and security forces in an effort to diminish the power of the Shiite led government and create a loss of confidence in the general Iraqi public.
Although no single group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, these may be in retaliation of increased Baghdad military pressure in the western desert. The military is in the midst of a major offensive as it attempts to locate militants in the area. It is widely accepted that Al Qaeda is the responsible party in the Baghdad massacre of Christians and the attacks may well be in retaliation for the offensive.
The Shiite led government continues to reassure the Christian community. Prime Minister Maliki insists that Christians have a place in Iraq and has gone so far as to declare Christmas a national holiday.
Prior to 2003, when the U.S. invaded Iraq, there were 1.5 million Iraqi Christians. Today there are less than half that number remaining in the country. Since 2003 over a 1,000 Christians have been killed and as many as 60 churches vandalized or destroyed. Al Qaeda has often said its primary goal is to remove the Christian influence from the predominately Muslim country. Violence levels in Iraq are at levels not seen since 2008. The escalation in violence may be directly traced to the increase in Iraqi government forces’ military activities this year.
Officials report that, while they are not sure if retaliation is the reason, the Christians massacred in Baghdad on Christmas day increases the death toll in December to 441. The United Nations says that an estimated 8,000 have been killed since the beginning of 2013.
Written by Anthony Clark