(Photo: AP Images / Karim Kadim)
A church in Mosul became the seventh Iraqi church bombed over the course of just 48 hours.
At least three children were injured in the latest attack, caused by a car bomb that exploded near the church in eastern Mosul, according to CNN.
Around 7 p.m. the night before, a car bomb had exploded near the Virgin Mary Church in east Baghdad as worshippers left Sunday mass, killing at least four – three Christians and one Muslim – and injuring another 32.
Several hours earlier on Sunday, three bombs had exploded around other Baghdad churches that injured eight people.
The latest string of church bombings started midnight Saturday, when two bombs exploded at a church in western Baghdad that damaged the building but did not injure anyone.
In total, seven churches – including six Baghdad-area churches – were bombed within 48 hours,
"This is going to make the Christians scared," said Bishop Shlemon Warduni, who was in his office at the back of the Virgin Mary Church when the 7 p.m. bomb went off, according to the Los Angeles Times. "They will be scared to come to services, and maybe more will leave the country."
Sunday’s coordinated church bomb blasts is reminiscent of the series of attacks in early 2008, when 10 bombs exploded outside of Iraqi churches within two weeks.
Since June 2004, a total of 59 Assyrian churches have been bombed in Iraq, according to the Assyrian International News Agency.
Persistent persecution of the tiny Christian community in Iraq has forced hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christians to flee the country. The U.N. High Commission for Refugees estimates that since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, some 250,000 to 500,000 Christians have left the country. That translates to about half the Christian population leaving within the short time span of six years.
Christians, while making up only three percent of Iraq’s population, account for nearly half of the refugees leaving the country.
More than 200 Christians, meanwhile, have been killed since 2003.
Last year, six Christians were killed in less than a week in the northern city of Mosul, including three Christian men murdered within 24 hours.
The murders spread fear throughout the Christian community in Mosul and resulted in more than 15,000 Christians fleeing the city over a period of two weeks.
Also last year, the second most senior Catholic cleric in Iraq, Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho, was kidnapped and then murdered in Mosul.
"Definitely we are the most vulnerable members of this society and we don't have any political forces to protect us," said Abdullah Nufaili, who heads the Christian Endowment, a state organization that oversees churches, to the LA Times after Sunday’s church bombing. "We were expecting this, and we expect it to get worse.... Their goal is to drive the Christians out of Iraq.”
Also on Sunday, a Christian Iraqi lawmaker was fatally shot in the northern city of Kirkuk by gunmen using silencers. Although the murdered politician, Rizko Aziz Nissan, is a Christian, Iraqi officials are unsure if the assassination is due to his religious faith because there have been other murders of lawmakers in the area.
And a small roadside bomb Sunday narrowly missed a convoy carrying American officials and diplomats who were traveling through southern Iraq, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill. No one was injured in the attack.
While violence has decreased in Iraq since 2003, militants still regularly stage attacks throughout the country. Attacks such as the ones on Sunday have fueld doubt over whether Iraq can really be stable by 2011 – when the U.S. plans to withdraw all its military troops.
"The terrorists are determined to hamper the political process in Iraq and not let Iraqis live in peace even after the withdrawal of foreign forces from the cities," said Younadem Kana, a Christian lawmaker, according to The Associated Press. "We demand that the Iraqi government take all necessary measures to protect Christians in Baghdad, and in all of Iraq."
Iraq is home to one of the oldest Christian communities in the world. Many religious freedom groups have warned that if nothing is done soon the Christian population in Iraq will likely disappear.