12/25/2013 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) - International Christian Concern (ICC) is deeply troubled by the two bombings that targeted Christians in the Iraqi capital on Christmas day. Two separate blasts occurred in the Dora neighborhood of Baghdad. Altogether, at least 37 people were killed and some 59 others were wounded, the Interior Ministry said.
The largest blast targeted worshipers as they were leaving the service at St. John Catholic Church. As churchgoers were exiting the Christmas day service, a parked car exploded, BBC reports. The blast killed at least 26 people and wounded 38 more, a police officer told AAP.
Shortly before the explosion outside St. John's, a bomb ripped through an outdoor market in the nearby Christian section of Athorien, killing 11 people and wounding 21. A medical officer, also speaking on the condition of anonymity confirmed the casualty figures, according to an AP report.
The attacks came despite efforts by security forces to protect Christmas celebrations throughout Iraq. Brig. Gen. Saad Maan, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said that thousands of security personnel will take part in the plan, which will start on Christmas Eve and will include "securing all churches, monasteries, public parks, tourist resorts and markets, as well as residential areas where celebrations will be held and where citizens are expected to go out visiting each other", he told Mawtani.
Baghdad's Dora neighborhood was once known as "The Vatican of Iraq" and was home to more than 30,000 Christian families. Today there are just an estimated 2,000 Christians living in the area. Following the removal of Saddam Hussein the area became a hotbed for Islamic extremists and a stronghold for al Qaeda militants. The neighborhoods churches repeatedly were attacked and church leaders were kidnapped. The violence had surged again in just the past few weeks with corpses found dumped, indicating that the death squads that have caused so much damage are again back at work, Colin Freeman wrote in the Telegraph.
No one has claimed responsibility for today's attacks, but signs point towards al Qaeda or a similar Islamic extremist group. As Freeman recounts in the Telegraph, "In 2010, al-Qaeda gunmen attacked an evening Mass at Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad, taking more than 100 hostages. By the time the security forces stormed the building two hours later, 58 were dead."
The Christmas day bombings have pushed the number of civilian deaths in December to 441 and the total for the year above 8000, according to U.N. estimates.
Todd Daniels, ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, "We are extremely troubled by the attacks on Christians as they mark the birth of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. This is just the latest in a long series of attacks that are driving Christians out of the land where they have lived for nearly 2000 years. It is imperative that the government and security forces take all steps possible to protect its civilians, including Christians, and provide for their continued existence in the region. We call on Christians around the world to remember their brothers and sisters in Iraq and to stand with them in prayer."