- (Reuters/Ako Rasheed)
In a coordinated effort to generate fear among Iraqi Christians, the ethnically and religiously diverse city of Kirkuk witnessed another attack outside a Syrian Catholic Church on Tuesday around 6 a.m.
At least 23 people were wounded in the attack, mostly from surrounding homes. The church's parish leader, Imad Yalda, was inside the church during the bombing and was also among the wounded.
Following the attack, two other car bombs were also found outside Kirkuk's Christian Anglican Church and the Mar Gourgis church.
The bombs were defused by security forces prior to their explosion.
Kirkuk's Deputy Police Chief, Torhan Abdulrahman said of the attack, "It was a coordinated attack to target churches at the same time."
The Rev. Haithem Akram, of one of the targeted churches in today's attacks said, "The terrorists want to make us flee Iraq, but they will fail. We are staying in our country."
Iraqi's Christian minority, formally standing at around 1.4 million, has been significantly downsizing its presence in the country since the ousting of Saddam Hussein in 2003, with close to 1 million having fled to other regions in Iraq or leaving the country to seek refuge.
Christians in Iraq are targeted predominately by Sunni extremists that find Christians in the country to be “non-believers.”
Christian pastors in Iraq have spoken out against Christian persecution in their country arguing for more government support and protection.
Canon Andrew White, who leads the St. George's Anglican Church in Baghdad, has spoken out against the violence but has also argued that the violence has only served to strengthen Christian unity in the country.
Violence directed at Iraq's Christian minority hit an all time high last October when 52 people were killed and dozens wounded in an attack on Baghdad's Our Lady of Salvation Catholic Church.
An al-Qaida affiliated group claimed responsibility for the attacks that saw gunmen and suicide bombers storm the church and kill worshipers.
It was the most deadly attack on Christians in Iraq since the 2003 U.S. invasion of the country.
Today's attacks come on the same day that a Baghdad court convicted three Iraqis to death for their role in last year's church siege.