4 killed as insurgents target Iraqi Christians
US ambassador is near site of separate blast
BAGHDAD - A car bomb exploded yesterday near a church as worshippers left Mass, killing at least four civilians and injuring 18 in one of several attacks on Iraq’s beleaguered Christian minority.
The coordinated assault came as the Iraqi military predicted that insurgent attacks, though declining, could continue for a few years, raising the prospect of militant violence after the scheduled withdrawal of all US troops by the end of 2011.
Three Christians and one Muslim died in the bombing at around 7 p.m. near a church on Palestine Street in eastern Baghdad, said a police officer who was at the scene. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
An official at Al-Kindi hospital confirmed the death toll and said at least 18 people were injured.
Also yesterday, a bomb exploded near a convoy of American personnel that included US Ambassador Christopher Hill, though no one was injured.
Joanne Moore, a State Department spokeswoman, said the bomb exploded as the convoy was traveling through Dhi Qar Province in southern Iraq.
Violence is sharply down in the war that began with the US-led invasion in 2003, but militants still carry out lethal attacks on a regular basis, some seemingly aimed at fomenting sectarian tension. The US military completed a withdrawal of combat forces from Iraqi cities to outlying bases last month as part of a plan to let Iraq take the lead on ensuring its own security.
General Babaker B. Shawkat Zebari, the Iraqi Army chief of staff, said insurgents once held sway in cities and provinces, but had been whittled down to a few highly dangerous cells that he expected would continue attacks for “a year or two or three.’’ He said the Iraqi military would get help from American forces if needed, but would also rely on assistance from its own citizens.
“To face terrorism, the Iraqi Army does not need tanks or armored vehicles, but needs intelligence, fast communication, and people’s support,’’ he said “The government has to coordinate with the population to get information about the terrorist cells.’’
The army chief spoke after meeting Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, in the holy Shi’ite city of Najaf, south of Baghdad. Sistani enjoys massive support among Iraq’s majority Shiites, and the Iraqi military sees the backing of religious leaders as vital to its legitimacy and success.
Although violence has diminished since 2007, insurgents exact a steady toll with bombs and targeted killings that would amount to a crisis in most other countries.
In the northern city of Kirkuk, gunmen with silencers in a car waited outside the house of Aziz Rizqo Nisan, head of the provincial audit department, and shot him as he drove to work yesterday morning. His death was confirmed by local police and the national government’s media office in Baghdad.
The motive for the killing of Nisan, a Christian, was unclear. Insurgents commonly target Iraqi government officials and security forces. Ethnic and sectarian tension is high in Kirkuk, a disputed city that Kurds want to annex into their northern region despite Arab opposition.
Iraq’s Christians have often been attacked by Islamic extremists, and many have fled the country.
Two bombs that were planted in a church in western Baghdad exploded at midnight Saturday, causing some damage but no injuries. Then three bombs exploded near other Baghdad churches at around 4:30 p.m., injuring eight civilians, police said. The fatal bombing followed two and a half hours later.
“The terrorists are determined to hamper the political process in Iraq,’’ said Younadem Kana, a Christian lawmaker.
Also yesterday evening, a roadside bomb blew up near a police patrol in Baghdad, killing one civilian and injuring four others, police officials said.