North Iraq Church Bombed, at Least 23 Wounded

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A car bomb outside a Christian church in northern Iraq exploded Tuesday morning, injuring 23 people.

Police say the bomb in the northern city of Kirkuk heavily damaged the Syrian Catholic church. The church's parish leader, Rev. Imad Yalda, was the only person inside the building at the time of the blast and was wounded.

The 22 others also wounded in the explosion were people whose nearby homes were hit by the blast.

Security forces later disabled two other car bombs near the Christian Anglican church and the Mar Gourgis church.

Kirkuk is an ethnically and religiously mixed city located several hours north of Baghdad. Sunni Muslim extremists have targeted Christians living there in the past because they are seen as unbelievers.

The bombing may signal continued violence against Iraqi Christians, nearly 1 million of whom have fled since the war began in 2003.

"The terrorists want to make us flee Iraq, but they will fail," said the Rev. Haithem Akram, the priest of one of the churches that was targeted. "We are staying in our country."

"The Iraqi Christians are easy targets because they do not have militias to protect them. The terrorists want to terrorize us, but they will fail," he added.

A State Department report says Christian leaders estimate that 400,000 to 600,000 Christians remain in Iraq, down from a prewar level of as high as 1.4 million by some estimates.

The Vatican and members of Congress have pleaded for Iraq's government to do more to protect Christians in Iraq since the violence began late last year.

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