- The Washington Times - Monday, August 2, 2004

BAGHDAD — Muslim militants bombed Christians in Baghdad and the northern city of Mosul yesterday, in near-simultaneous explosions timed to coincide with Sunday services.

Eleven persons died and more than 40 were wounded in the attacks on five churches in the two cities. It was the first major assault on churches in Iraq since the 15-month-old insurgency began.

Hind Zakko and her father, Joseph, were listening to the Sunday sermon at the Assyrian Catholic Church in Baghdad when they heard the explosion rip through the old building and felt shards of stained glass on their heads.

“It was horrible; it was so loud,” said Miss Zakko as she dabbed blood from her father’s head, hands and neck, which had small cuts.

“Look at you,” she fussed. “Who would do this? Who would bomb a church?”

Militants targeted four churches in Baghdad and one in Mosul.

U.S. forces, Iraqi police and civilians also were attacked yesterday.

Three roadside bombs nationwide killed four persons, including a U.S. soldier, and wounded six, police said. A suicide car bombing outside a police station in Mosul killed at least five persons and injured 53.

The bloodshed came after a night of clashes between U.S. troops and insurgents that killed 12 Iraqis and wounded 39 in Fallujah.

Because Sunday is a normal workday in Iraq, Sunday worship services typically are held in the evening.

“It’s a new step down for the people who are doing this. Those people inside were praying,” said Col. Mike Murray, commander of the 3rd Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division, which has primary responsibility for patrolling Baghdad.

Behind him, two priests in black robes embraced near a ruined Catholic church, one of them seemingly oblivious to the slash across his cheek and blood staining his white collar.

U.S. surveillance helicopters took to the skies, as ambulances crisscrossed the streets of the capital to get to hospitals.

Christians poured into the streets as the sun set, shocked that anyone would target houses of worship.

“I don’t think we feel safe anymore,” said Samer Sabberi, a 17-year-old Christian who lives next to a graceful Armenian cathedral. “My family didn’t talk about it, but now they have been.”

In Mosul, a car bomb blew up next to a Catholic church while worshippers were coming out of Mass, police Maj. Raed Abdel Basit told Reuters news agency. Several rocket-propelled grenades also were launched at the church.

The church attacks did not appear to be suicide bombings, U.S. military and Iraqi officials said.

Up to 1 million Christians are thought to be living in Iraq, most of them in or around Baghdad.

Under Saddam Hussein, they were allowed to worship freely, and there were no overt acts of hostility or aggression.

But Christians have been complaining of harassment for months. Many have left for Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.

There have been a series of attacks this summer on Baghdad’s liquor stores and music shops, most of them owned by Christians.

Fundamentalist Muslim groups have warned owners of these businesses to close operations.

“This [attack] isn’t against Muslims or Christians, this is against Iraq,” Deputy Foreign Minister Labid Abawi told the Associated Press.

The Vatican called the attacks “terrible and worrisome,” said the Rev. Ciro Benedettini, its spokesman.

Muslim clerics condemned the violence and offered condolences to the Christian community.

“This is a cowardly act and targets all Iraqis,” Abdul Hadi al-Daraji, spokesman for radical Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, told Al Jazeera television.

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