Car Bomb Explodes Near Iraqi Church; Dozen People Injured

A car bomb exploded Tuesday near a northern Iraqi church, injuring a dozen people.

In the mostly Christian town of Bartilla, about 28 miles north of Mosul, a car bomb exploded at about 12 p.m., according to the Assyrian International News Agency. The blast occurred near St. George Church, which is in the same town as the church that was attacked on Christmas morning by a minority ethnic group called Shabak.

A dozen people were reportedly injured in the latest attack, with five having been hospitalized.

The explosion also damaged dozens of homes and shops.

Less than two weeks ago, Shabak Shiites attacked the Assyrian Christian town after the group took over the entry checkpoint. Witnesses said the assailants harassed a Christian procession headed toward St Mary Church in Bartilla on Christmas morning by throwing rocks at participants.

Around 100 armed Shabaks later tried to enter St. Mary Church but church guards reportedly blocked them from entering, leading to a conflict and an exchange of gunfire that left four Christians wounded.

The recent attacks in Bartilla also followed a church bombing at St. Thomas Church in Mosul on Dec. 23 that killed two men and wounded five others.

Since 2003, more than 200 Christians have been killed in Iraq, and since June 2004, some 65 churches have been attacked or bombed, including 40 in Baghdad, 19 in Mosul, five in Kirkuk, and one in Ramadi.

In July 2009, seven churches in Iraq were bombed over the course of just 48 hours. Many of the explosions were caused by car bombs. The July coordinated church bomb blasts was reminiscent of the series of attacks in early 2008, when ten bombs exploded outside of Iraqi churches within two weeks.

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.

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.

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