BAGHDAD — Hundreds of terrified Christian families have fled Mosul to escape extremist attacks that have increased despite months of U.S. and Iraqi military operations to secure the northern city, political and religious officials said Saturday.
About 3,000 Christians have fled the city over the past week alone in a "major displacement," said Duraid Mohammed Kashmoula, the governor of northern Iraq's Ninevah province. He said most have left for churches, monasteries and the homes of relatives in nearby Christian villages and towns.
"The Christians were subjected to abduction attempts and paid ransom, but now they are subjected to a killing campaign," Kashmoula said, adding he believed al-Qaida elements were to blame and calling for a renewed drive to root them out.
Mosul police have reported finding the bullet-riddled bodies of seven Christians in separate attacks this month, the latest a day laborer found on Wednesday. On Saturday, militants blew up three abandoned Christian homes in eastern Mosul, police said.
Father Bolis Jacob of Mosul's Mar Afram Church said he was at a loss to understand the violence. "We respect the Islamic religion and the Muslim clerics," he said. "We don't know under what religion's pretexts these terrorists work."
The killings come as Christian leaders are lobbying Parliament to pass a law setting aside a number of seats for minorities, such as Christians, in forthcoming provincial elections, fearing they could be further marginalized in the predominantly Muslim country.
Iraq's Christian community has been estimated at 3 percent of Iraq's 26-million people, or about 800,000, and has a significant presence in the northern Ninevah province. Christians have lived in Mosul for about 1,800 years.
U.S. SOLDIER DIES: An American soldier died Saturday when a bomb exploded near his vehicle outside Amarah, the military said.