Security was ramped up in Christian areas of Baghdad and the northern Iraqi city of Mosul on Monday after deadly bombings which left church leaders in dismay over the assailants and their motives.
“Why? Why? This is what we are always asking, why?” said Shlemon Warduni, an auxiliary bishop whose Church of Our Lady of Sacred Heart in the capital’s Al-Mohandiseen district suffered the four deaths on Sunday.
“This is a very, very difficult moment, a very terrible moment,” Warduni told AFP, sitting at his desk under a framed photograph of him alongside Pope Benedict XVI.
“It is like war,” the bishop said, before pausing a moment and adding: “It is worse than war, because in war, you know who you are facing, no? Here you don’t know.”
Aside from the four killed, 32 other people were wounded in seven attacks over a 48-hour period, leading to streets being cordoned off in Baghdad and a curfew being imposed in two predominantly Christian towns close to Mosul.
In eastern Baghdad, the area around the Sacred Heart church was sealed off by police and soldiers as a truck began picking up the charred wreckage of cars destroyed by the bomb blast.
No cars were allowed to park near the cordon, and police questioned anyone who wanted to enter the street. Along with the four Christians killed, 21 people were wounded in the attack, 15 of them also Christians.
A police officer outside the church told AFP that the bomber had pushed his 1980s Volkswagen Passat in front of the building after convincing nearby security guards that it had broken down.
He then told them that he needed to get a mechanic and some fuel and disappeared, and the bomb later exploded, shattering the church’s windows, blackening its walls and destroying nearby cars.
Curfews were also imposed in Hamdaniyah, east of Mosul, and Talkif to the north. “We are not allowing cars or people to enter or exit”, a security official said.
“The restrictions came into place at 6:00 am (0300 GMT) after information about possible car bombs in the area.”
In another attack on Sunday, a Christian official was assassinated in the volatile oil-rich town of Kirkuk. It was not clear if Aziz Rizko Missan, who headed the provincial government’s financial auditing department, was killed because of his faith.
On Monday, meanwhile, one person was killed and 10 others, including four policemen, were wounded by a roadside bomb targeting a police patrol in Baghdad’s central shopping district of Karrada, security officials said.
Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi has urged Iraq’s Christian minority not to flee the violence-plagued country and urged the international community to help protect it from extremists.
According to Christian leaders, 250,000 of the 800,000 Christians who lived in Iraq before the US-led invasion of 2003 that ousted president Saddam Hussein have now left the country.
In May, Pope Benedict XVI urged the world to make every effort to protect Iraq’s Christian minority in a speech to Muslim leaders in neighbouring Jordan.
The church bombings came less than two weeks after US forces withdrew from Iraq’s cities on June 30 under a security pact signed by Baghdad and Washington last November.
Violence had dropped markedly throughout the country in recent months, but attacks increased last month in the run-up to the US’s urban pullout, leading to 437 people being killed in June, the highest such death toll in 11 months.