BAGHDAD (AP) — Baghdad's Christians came under attack again Wednesday when a coordinated series of roadside bombs blew up in predominantly Christian neighborhoods, killing five people. The blasts came less than two weeks after insurgents besieged a church and killed 68 people in an assault that drew international condemnation.
Police said at least 11 roadside bombs went off within an hour in three predominantly Christian areas of central Baghdad. Four blasts hit houses belonging to Christians and two mortar rounds struck Christian enclaves in the southern predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Dora. Two bombs planted in deserted Christian homes in western Baghdad destroyed two houses.
It was the third attack targeting Christians since the church siege on Oct. 31. Late Tuesday, a series of bombs hit three empty houses belonging to Christians in western Baghdad but no one was hurt.
An al–Qaida–linked group claimed responsibility for the church attack and threatened more violence against Iraq's Christian community.
The threat left many Christians in the country wondering whether it was time to flee their homeland.
"We were terrified by the explosions," said Juleit Hana, a 33–year–old Christian who lives in one of the neighborhoods targeted Wednesday. She was having breakfast with her daughter when she heard the bombs go off. She vowed to leave the country.
"It's not worth staying in a country where the government is not able to protect you even when you are sitting in your house," she said.
The new attacks struck as Iraq's minority Christian community was still in shock over the massacre at Baghdad's main Catholic cathedral, Our Lady of Salvation. It was the worst attack against the Christian minority since the 2003–U.S. led invasion that set the stage for fierce sectarian fighting between Shiite and Sunni Muslim sects, which killed tens of thousands of civilians.
Church officials said Wednesday that 56 Christians had died in the church massacre. Police officials said 12 others also died.
Security was beefed up around churches in Baghdad after the massacre, possibly pushing the militants to seek easier targets, such as Christian homes. Layers of police protect most Shiite shrines in Iraq, and as a result, militants began targeting Shiite pilgrims on their way to visit the shrines.
Sunni Islamic militants such as al–Qaida consider both Shiites and Christians to be nonbelievers. They have also questioned whether Iraq's Christians are loyal to Christian countries in the West or to Iraq as a way to justify their attacks.
Iraq's top Catholic prelate, Chaldean Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly has encouraged the remaining 1.5 million Christians to stay in the country and called on the authorities for more protection. Catholic officials estimate that more than 1 million Christians fled Iraq since Saddam Hussein's regime fell.
Amal, a 50–year–old Christian resident of eastern Baghdad who only gave her first name for fear of retribution, said the attacks won't succeed at driving Christians out.
"We are Iraqis and those attackers want us to leave," said Amal, a mother of four. "We've lived in Iraq for so long. It our home."
The Vatican's secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, urged Iraqi authorities to seriously consider the Vatican's plea that they better protect Christians.
"It's a very painful situation," the ANSA news agency quoted Bertone as saying Wednesday. The Holy See recently held a meeting of Mideast bishops in Rome to discuss the plight of Christians in the region.
The bishops praised those who had stayed "in times of adversity, suffering and anguish" and encouraged those who were forced to leave to one day return to their homelands.
An al–Qaida statement has also threatened Christians across the Middle East unless Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church releases women who the terror group claims are held captive for converting to Islam.
Police and hospital officials said 20 people were also wounded in Wednesday's violence. It was not immediately clear how many of the casualties were Christian. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Younadem Kana, a Christian member of the Iraqi parliament, blamed security officials for failing to protect the Christians and said that Wednesday's bombings exposed "grave flaws in the structure and the work of Iraq's security forces."
He said attacks will continue as long as Iraq remains without a government that represents all Iraqis.
The country's political leaders are to meet in Baghdad Wednesday for the third consecutive day for talks focused on the formation of a new government. For the past eight months since March 7 elections, Iraqi politicians have failed to agree on a government that would include the Sunni–backed coalition led by Ayad Allawi, which narrowly defeated Prime Minister Nouri al–Maliki's Shiite–dominated bloc.
At stake is whether Iraq has an inclusive government of both the majority Shiites and the minority Sunnis or a Shiite–dominated government with the Sunnis largely in opposition — a recipe that many worry will turn the country back to the sectarian violence of a few years ago.
Associated Press (News - Alert) writer Sameer N. Yacoub in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.