The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Iraq churches hit by blasts

Baghdad, Oct. 16 (Reuters): Explosions damaged five churches in Baghdad early today in a fresh wave of attacks aimed at Iraq's small but deep-rooted Christian community.

An interior ministry spokesman said the series of bombs starting at 4 am (0100 GMT) caused no casualties and there was no immediate word on the identity or motives of the assailants. The attacks are likely to unnerve Iraqi Christians already shaken by bombs that killed 11 people in Baghdad and the northern city of Mosul in August.

The ministry identified the churches attacked today as St Joseph's, St Jacob's, St George's, St Thomas' and St Rum's.

A nightwatchman was jolted out of bed to find the St Rum church in the central Karrada district had been gutted, its pulpit and pews reduced to ashes.

'This is no good. We live in fear. I wanted to go to church tomorrow but I am worried there will be more attacks on churches,' said Marlene Mikhail, 40, sitting in her home surrounded by crosses and religious icons on the walls.

The US military has accused Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi of carrying out bombings specifically aimed at fuelling sectarian discord and sparking civil war in Iraq.

Iraq's estimated 650,000 Christians ' mostly Chaldeans, Assyrians and Catholics ' make up three per cent of the population. Some say they were free from violence and persecution under toppled Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Like other Iraqis, they have witnessed relentless suicide bombings, shootings and kidnappings in the security vacuum created by last year's US-led invasion. Many Christians feel they are becoming targets for Muslim militants in their ancient homeland, where serious attacks on their community had been rare.

'We are all very concerned about the future. Before we had no problems. Now anything could happen to us,' said Sargon Mikhail, 33.

Christians wondered who was behind the explosions. 'Before it was easy for the government to catch people because the country was tightly controlled. Now with all the chaos and violence there is no way of knowing who is attacking us,' said Adel Karim, 30, a labourer.

Troop refusal

The military is investigating the reported refusal this week by some US troops to take part in a supply convoy in Iraq, where explosive devices have killed dozens of soldiers, defence officials said yesterday.

A statement issued by the US military in Iraq called it an 'isolated incident.' Family members of some of the nearly 20 troops told a US newspaper that security for the fuel trucks was inadequate.

The military statement said 19 members of the 343rd Quartermaster Company, a unit that moves water and other supplies for American troops, did not report to formation to prepare for their assigned convoy mission on Wednesday morning. It said the investigation would determine whether the military's strict code of conduct was violated. Refusal to obey orders, especially in a combat zone, is a serious military offence. But the statement stressed that 'it is far too early in the investigation to speculate as to what happened.'

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