Al Qaeda in Iraq blamed for Christmas bombings

Al Qaeda militants are being blamed for the deadly Christmas bombings in Iraq which claimed at least 37 lives.

The Christian community in Baghdad was targeted on Christmas Day in three near-simultaneous bombings at St John’s Catholic church, where 26 died, and at a marketplace in the nearby Assyrian Christian district. The car bomb at St John’s was timed specifically to coincide with the departure of Chriwstian worshippers from the church after Christmas Mass. Over 50 people were seriously injured in the blasts.

The attacks immediately drew comparison with the deadly 2010 assault on the Syriac Catholic church of Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad, in which 58 people were murdered by members of the al Qaeda-linked group the Islamic State of Iraq (currently one of the most active against Christian communities in Syria).

Significantly, the latest bombings came in the wake of an agreement by the government of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki to recognise Christmas as a national holiday. In response to a request for such a move by Chaldean Patriarch Raphael Louis Sako I towards stemming the continuing flight of Christians from Iraq, the government declared Christmas a holiday for all Iraqis.

However, the move may have inadvertently prompted Sunni militants to identify the already hated Christian community as supporting the unpopular Shia government, which is currently leading a major military offensive in Anbar province against militants, including al Qaeda.

The neighbourhood where St John’s church is located was formerly home to a Christian population of some 30,000 families. Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq and post-occupation violence, that number has shrunk to an estimated 2,000. Across Iraq, a former Christian population of two million is now believed to be just 300,000.