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           August 24, 2011



Bombers Target Kirkuk


Alarmed: Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk, after recent church bombings in the Iraqi city Picture: ACN News

IRAQ (ACN News): A parish priest in Kirkuk was fortunate to escape injury when a church in the Iraqi city was bombed on August 15.

This was the third church bombing in Kirkuk within less than two weeks. Nobody was hurt in the explosion.

Parish priest Fr Gewargis Elias was lucky to escape with his life when security staff spotted a vehicle carrying suspicious devices and ordered him out of St Ephrem's Syrian Orthodox Church just minutes before the blast.

Reporting the incident, Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need: "Today they attacked the church. Who knows if tomorrow they will attack the clergy or the people?"

The archbishop was speaking after St Ephrem's became the third church in Kirkuk to be attacked this month.

Two weeks earlier, again early in the morning, car bombs exploded at Holy Family Syrian Catholic Church and the nearby Evangelical church.

At least 13 people in homes close to Holy Family Church were injured - mostly slightly.

Chaldean Archbishop Sako said the August 15 bombing in the city centre was far bigger, leaving a huge hole in the main wall, smashing pews and other church fittings.

The archbishop himself was woken by the blast which went off less than 1km from Archbishop's House where windows were broken.

Returning from a visit to St Ephrem's Church, Archbishop Sako said evidence showed the attack had been carefully planned.

"I saw many people in the church when I was there. They were so very tired and shocked," he said.

"They were asking: 'Why our church? What is the reason?'"

The archbishop said nobody had claimed responsibility for the attacks.

"There is no justification for attacks like this. We Christians have no part to play in politics. We are not causing people any problems," Archbishop Sako said.

"This is only happening because we are Christians. Maybe the people responsible want to empty the city of Christians.

"Please pray for us. Pray for peace and stability. We are afraid."

Archbishop Sako said that since the attacks two weeks earlier, five Christian families had left.

He estimated that over the past 30 years thousands of Christians in Kirkuk had left the city.

"This exodus of Christians is going on all the time. It is a big loss for those Christians who want to continue here. How long can they can resist the pressure to leave?" he said.

The archbishop said at a meeting today the local governor promised him the Government would provide guards for churches and funding for repairs.

But Archbishop Sako said such measures offered little reassurance long term.

"The Government will provide guards and repairs but after that we are not sure if there will be another explosion," he said.

"Our concerns are not a priority for the Government.

What can we do? How can we plan for the future?"

The Government's pledge to boost security comes after Syrian Catholic Archbishop Yohanna Petros Mouche of Kirkuk called on politicians to guarantee better protection, making his comments in a recent ACN interview.

Archbishop Sako went on to describe scaling back celebrations for the Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady to "modest" levels.

The archbishop, who is a Chaldean prelate, said relations were good with the Syrian Orthodox and other churches and added that they would work together.

"All the Christians, all the churches are open to each other. We have an ecumenism which is really alive and we are supporting one another as much as we can," he said.