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Al-Maliki Vows To Protect Iraqi Christians

Al-Maliki met Pope Benedict in Italy in early July.
BAGHDAD (Reuters) -- Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has vowed to protect Christians in Iraq's northern city of Mosul as police were deployed following a surge of attacks that have prompted hundreds of families to flee.

Al-Maliki made the promise in a statement after receiving Christian officials in his office, pledging that security forces in Nineveh Governorate would take all necessary measures to provide security for Christians in predominantly Muslim Iraq.

"Orders were given to Nineveh operation commander and security forces to do what is necessary to provide protection to the sons of this sect," said al-Maliki, a Shi'ite.

More than 1,000 police have been deployed to protect Christian districts and churches in Mosul, 390 kilometers north of Baghdad, Interior Ministry spokesman Major General Abd al-Karim Khalaf said.

"We formed an emergency committee, headed by the police chief in Mosul, to look for the perpetrators [of recent attacks]. There have been more than 14 arrests, and one suspect was killed during a confrontation," Khalaf said.

'Very Painful Matter'

Hundreds of Christian families have fled ethnically mixed Mosul, which remains one of the most violent areas of Iraq and where Christians have fallen prey in recent weeks to a surge of attacks and intimidation.

"We severely condemn this; it is a very painful matter," said Monsignor Shleimon Warduni, an assistant to the head of the Chaldean church in Iraq. He said 13 or 14 Christians had been killed in the last week.

"We haven't seen any real reaction from the government. For this reason, we have raised our voice," Warduni said.

It is unclear who has carried out the attacks, but a Christian lawmaker said on October 11 that Christians were being threatened by people connected to the security forces.

The government's media office also said in a separate statement that al-Maliki had ordered an immediate investigation.

Iraq's Christians, who number in the hundreds of thousands, have sought to exclude themselves from the sectarian bloodshed that has plagued Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, but they have occasionally been targeted for kidnapping or killing and have fallen victim to random violence.

Christians have protested in recent weeks for the restoration of quotas for religious minorities in a provincial election law passed last month.

Al-Maliki's government also supports the inclusion of such quotas.

RFE/RL Iraq Report

RFE/RL Iraq Report

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