IRAQ

Dozens killed in Iraq Christmas bombings

AFP

Militants in Iraq targeted Christians in two separate bomb attacks in Baghdad on Wednesday, killing at least 37 people, officials said.

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In one attack, a car bomb went off near a church during Christmas Mass in the capital's southern Dora neighborhood, killing at least 26 people and wounding 38, a police officer said.

A little bit earlier, a bomb ripped through an outdoor market in the nearby Christian section of Athorien, killing 11 people and wounding 21, the officer added.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks, but Iraq's dwindling Christian community, which is estimated to number about 400,000 to 600,000 people, has often been targeted by al Qaeda and other insurgents who see the Christians as unbelievers.

Analysts say widespread discontent among Iraq's minority Sunni Arab community is a major factor fuelling the surge in unrest this year.

The 33-month war in Syria, which has bolstered extremist groups, has also played a role.

And although the government has made some concessions aimed at placating Sunni Arabs, including freeing prisoners and raising the salaries of Sahwa anti-Qaeda fighters, underlying issues remain unaddressed.

Along with Christians, major targets include civilians in restaurants, cafes or crowded public areas, as well as Shiites and also members of the Iraqi security forces, who are targeted in an attempt to undermine confidence in the Shiite-led government and stir up Iraq's already simmering sectarian tensions.

A medical official confirmed the casualty figures. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk to the media.

Wednesday's bombings came amid a massive military operation in Iraq's western desert as authorities try to hunt down insurgents who have stepped up attacks across Iraq in the past months, sending violence to levels not seen since 2008.

The Christmas Day attacks brought the total number of people killed so far this month in Iraq to 441. According to UN estimates, more than 8,000 people have been killed since the start of the year.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and AP)

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