Amnesty calls on Iraq to protect Christians
BAGHDAD (AFP) – Rights group Amnesty International on Monday called on Iraq's government to step up protection of Christians, after 44 worshippers were killed in a late October attack on a Baghdad church.
Amnesty "called on the Iraqi government to do more to protect the country's Christian minority from an expected spike in violent attacks as they prepare to celebrate Christmas," the rights group said in a statement.
"Attacks on Christians and their churches by armed groups have intensified in past weeks and have clearly included war crimes" Malcolm Smart, Amnesty's director for the Middle East and north Africa, said in the statement.
"We fear that militants are likely to attempt serious attacks against Christians during the Christmas period for maximum publicity and to embarrass the government," Smart said.
Forty-four Christian worshippers, two priests and seven security forces personnel were killed on October 31 after gunmen seized a Baghdad cathedral and troops stormed the church.
The Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), an Al-Qaeda affiliate, claimed responsibility for the attack and warned that Christians everywhere were henceforth "legitimate targets."
The secretary-general of Iraq's council of ministers, Ali Mohsen Ismail al-Allaq, on Monday condemned attacks on Iraqi Christians and said the government would do more to confront attacks.
"The country is facing attempts to empty Iraqi society" of Christians, Allaq said, terming those behind the attempts "external enemies" of Iraq.
Iraq "is facing exceptional circumstances, and the attacks issue is among these circumstances," he said, promising that the government would "provide the required support... to face the difficulties, and solve all the problems of the security situation."
Also on Monday, defence ministry spokesman Major General Mohammed al-Askari said that Iraqi army special forces killed three Libyans who were allegedly planning suicide attacks ahead of Christmas in the northern city of Mosul.
The soldiers raided a house in southern Mosul and came under attack with hand grenades, sparking a clash in which the three "terrorists" were killed, he said.
Security forces found three explosive vests, six hand grenades, a pistol and documents indicating the men had entered Iraq at the weekend, he said, adding that the Libyans were planning to carry out suicide attacks ahead of Christmas.