Gunmen Attack Armenian, Chaldean Churches in Iraq

Gunmen attacked two churches in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul Tuesday in the latest violence against Iraq’s minority Christian community, witnesses said. Members of the churches, one Armenian, the other Chaldean, said gunmen burst in, forced people to leave and set off explosions inside the buildings, damaging them but hurting no one.

"Gunmen entered the church at about 4:30 pm (1330 GMT),” said Father Raghid Aziz Kara at the Chaldean church. “They gathered those present in one room and planted explosive charges in different parts of the building,"

Aziz told AFP, "We were then taken outside and the armed men set off the devices. We heard three blasts.”

At that same moment, gunmen attacked the Armenian Church, forcing out a security guard and two other people inside the building. The guard told AFP that he had heard two explosions.

The attacks are the latest in a string of increasing violence directed at Iraq's Christian minority that has led to the destruction of places of worship and the building exodus of its 800,000 or so members.

In a recent report by the Religion News Service, the agency reported that an estimated one of every 10 Iraqi Christians has fled the country, most of them to neighboring Syria.

“After decades of living in relative harmony with the country's Muslim majority, Iraq's Christian minority says it is under threat as never before,” RNS reported.

Sister Beninia Hermes Shoukwana, a Christian nun and headmistress of a public school in Baghdad, told RNS that she was unable to hide her distress over the fate of her country and fellow Christians, most of them Chaldeans.

"For years Christians and Muslims lived like brothers and sisters," Shoukwana told RNS.

"Today the extremists are trying to separate us."

Last month, masked men detonated a bomb near an Orthodox Church in southern Baghdad, killing three people and wounding 34. In October, five Baghdad churches were attacked, causing damage but no casualties. In August, similar attacks killed at least 10 and wounded nearly 50 Iraqi Christians.

The attacks follow an outbreak of insurgent violence across Iraq as the country nears its first democratic elections, slated for January.