AT LEAST 20 people were injured in the city of Kirkuk, in northern Iraq, on Tuesday, when a car bomb exploded close to a Roman Catholic church. All the windows of the Holy Family Church, in the centre of the city, were broken, and there was considerable damage to one side of the building and to neighbouring properties.
A number of Iraqi and Syrian Christians — including children — were among the injured, hospital sources said.
The Iraqi police subsequently discovered two more cars packed with explosives outside two other churches in Kirkuk. The city’s police chief said that the perpetrators had planned a co-ordinated attack on Christian places of worship.
The bombing will further damage the morale of the dwindling Christian community in Iraq, many of whom have moved to Kirkuk, which was considered to be safer than many cities in the south, where radical Islamic groups tend to operate. Only about 800,000 Christians are believed to have remained in Iraq — about half the number before the overthrow of President Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Tension has been rising in Kirkuk because the city lies in the centre of one of the main oil-producing regions in the country. The Kurds insist that the city belongs to them — a claim that is contested by the Arab community.
Until the beginning of this month, United States forces had organised joint patrols with Kurdish and Iraqi troops. The Americans have now pulled out, however.
Also on Tuesday, a court in Baghdad sentenced three men to death for planning and carrying out the siege of Our Lady of Salvation Cathedral, in the capital, in which 68 people were killed (News, 5 November 2010). It was the worst single attack on a church, and caused thousands of Christians to leave the city.
Christian leaders in Iraq said on Tuesday that they were satisfied that the culprits had been brought to trial, and that justice had been done.