| A Shia woman stands in front of a wall engraved with a cross at a church in Baghdad’s al-Dura district. (AFP)
Baghdad, August 2 (Reuters): Iraq accused al Qaida ally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi today of carrying out coordinated car bombings at churches that killed at least 11 people, saying the militants wanted to drive Christians out of the country.
A group linked to Zarqawi also executed a Turkish hostage. In response to the killing and a wave of kidnappings of Turkish drivers, a Turkish truckers’ group said it would stop transporting goods to US forces in Iraq.
Muslim leaders including top Shia cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani condemned the car bombings, which were timed for yesterday evening church services in Baghdad and the northern city of Mosul.
The attacks were the first on the minority Christian community’s churches since the start of a 15-month insurgency.
“There is no shadow of a doubt that this bears the blueprint of Zarqawi,” said national security adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubaie, adding the militants wanted to spark religious conflict.
“Zarqawi and his extremists are basically trying to drive a wedge between Muslims and Christians in Iraq. It’s clear they want to drive Christians out of the country,” he said.
The Jordanian-born militant has claimed responsibility for many major car bombings in Iraq since Saddam Hussein was ousted last year and also the killing of several foreign hostages among dozens seized in recent months.
Pope John Paul today condemned the bombings as an “unjust aggression” against a religious community that was working for peace.
A Vatican statement said that in the message the Pope “firmly deplored the unjust aggressions against those whose only aim is to collaborate for peace and reconciliation in the country.”
The Pope made his comments in a message to the Chaldean rite patriarch of Iraq, Emmanuel III, who is also the president of Catholic bishops in Iraq. The Pope said he felt close to Iraqi Catholicsbecause the attacks took place while the faithful were gathered for Sunday services.