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Iraqi Christians fear spike in Christmas attacks

12/20/2010 Iraq (Amnesty International) – Amnesty International today called on the Iraqi government to do more to protect the country’s Christian minority from an expected spike in violent attacks as they prepare to celebrate Christmas.

“Attacks on Christians and their churches by armed groups have intensified in past weeks and have clearly included war crimes” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“We fear that militants are likely to attempt serious attacks against Christians during the Christmas period for maximum publicity and to embarrass the government.”

Last year armed groups carried out fatal bomb attacks on churches in Mosul on 15 and 23 December. Some 65 attacks on Christian churches in Iraq were recorded between mid-2004 and the end of 2009.

The increase in violence against Christians in the last month takes place against a backdrop of sectarian violence in Iraq, including several bomb attacks on Shi’a gatherings last week during the Ashura period, which have reportedly killed more than a dozen people.

“We utterly condemn the ongoing attacks against Iraqi civilians carried out by armed groups, and call on the Iraqi government to provide more protection, especially for vulnerable religious and ethnic communities” said Malcolm Smart.

Attacks have increased since around 100 worshippers were taken hostage in a Baghdad Assyrian Catholic church by an armed group on 31 October, with more than 40 people killed as Iraqi security forces tried to free the hostages. The Islamic State of Iraq, an armed group linked to al-Qa’ida, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Following the hostage crisis, Christian families in Baghdad have been subjected to increasing bomb and rocket attacks on their homes, as well as systematic threats in the mail or by text message.

Christians in Mosul have also been increasingly targeted for assassination by gunmen, with reports in Iraqi media of at least five killed by armed men in November. Reports of killings and abductions of Christians in Mosul have continued in December. Dozens of Christian families have fled Baghdad, Mosul and Basra and have sought refuge in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.

In May this year, a bus-load of Christian students were targeted in a bomb attack as they travelled from a predominantly Christian area in Mosul to Mosul University. A Christian from Mosul who must remain anonymous for security reasons has told Amnesty International: “Many students who were in those buses in May have not gone back to university.”

“The security situation in Mosul is very bad… 90 per cent of the Christian students have dropped university – they are all very afraid of something happening to them. …When I leave the house I am always under alert…”

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