Iraqi Officials to Probe Attacks on Christians
MOSUL, Iraq (Reuters) - Iraq"s government pledged on Tuesday to send senior officials to northern Iraq to tackle violence against Christians which has led thousands to flee their homes fearing for their lives.
"The cabinet stressed the need to move quickly to support the security effort with intensive military operations to restore security and order in Mosul and to reassure citizens," government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said in a statement.
Dabbagh said the government would send a cabinet-level delegation to Mosul, an ethnically mixed city where hundreds of Christian families have fled their homes in recent days, to investigate this "painful situation."
Yunadim Kanna, a Christian lawmaker, said more than 1,500 families had left following recent killings of Christians.
The government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shi"ite Muslim, has condemned the attacks and has sent more than 1,000 police to keep watch over the Christians in the city, some 390 km (240 miles) north of Baghdad.
Kanna, who met Maliki along with other Christian officials Monday, said the situation had stabilized somewhat. "We expect these areas to be controlled, and the families to return to their homes in coming days," he said.
Major-General Ali Ghaidan, commander of Iraqi ground forces, said the fruits of the recent crackdown would soon be visible, attributing the exodus to "media exaggeration that gave rise to fear and horror among these families ... even if no threat was received."
The targeted violence in Mosul has brought renewed attention to the plight of Iraq"s Christians, who number in the hundreds of thousands and who have tried to keep out of violence between Muslim sects in the past four years.
A number of Christian clergy have been kidnapped and killed in Iraq and churches have been bombed since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. The Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Mosul was kidnapped in February and his body was found two weeks later.
U.S. and Iraqi troops are targeting al Qaeda militants in ongoing operations in Mosul, seen as the last urban stronghold of the Sunni Islamist group which has lost ground in other parts of Iraq.
Some Christians, however, have placed blame on recent violence other elements in the city, which is home to Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen. They describe a systematic campaign to oust them from the city.
Kanna, like other Christians, said he was concerned by the shadow of the government in the attacks.
"I don"t want to accuse anyone, but I am saying that (those carrying out attacks) are wearing police uniforms," he said.
The Iraqi government also promised to provide aid to displaced families, many of whom have taken refuge in nearby cities and towns.
"The Muslims are our brothers," said one Mosul priest, who asked not to be named. "When they have hard times, we listen, and vice versa. We want things to settle down here and we will urge people to return to their homes."
Published: October 14, 2008