U.S. condemns Christmas attacks that kill 37 Christians in Iraq
WASHINGTON -- The State Department condemned twin Christmas Day attacks on Christians in Iraq that killed at least 37 people.
One car bomb, which killed at least 26 people, went off near a church in the Dora neighborhood of Baghdad during Christmas Mass. Another bomb exploded in an outdoor market in another nearby Christian neighborhood, killing 11.
The U.S. embassy in Baghdad said the Christian community in Iraq “has suffered deliberate and senseless targeting by terrorists for many years, as have other Iraqis.” It said it “condemns in the strongest terms” the attacks.
No group claimed responsibility for the attacks, but terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda are widely believed responsible for most of the attacks on Christians. Their goal, experts believe, is to drive out the remaining Christians and sharpen ethnic tensions.
There were about 1.5 million Iraqi Christians before the U.S. invasion of the country in 2003, but the numbers have dwindled to about half that, and Christians continue to emigrate.
The Christians who remain celebrate in churches protected by heavy barricades and other security measures.
The Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has made some gestures to try to reassure the Christian community of its place, including making Christmas a national holiday.
The government is also in the middle of a major military operation in the western desert aimed at rooting out the militants who have sent violence in Iraq to the highest levels since 2008. More than 8,000 people have been killed this year, according to United Nations estimates.
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