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Gunmen Kill 2 Christian Sisters in Iraq

Iraqi police say gunmen they identify as Islamic extremists shot and killed two Christian sisters while storming their house and rigging it with explosives in the war-torn northern Iraqi city of Mosul. The mother of the two women was also wounded, as Edward Yeranian reports for VOA from Cairo.

Christian families in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul are the focus of violence targeting their once-prominent community.

The extremists shot and killed the two Christian sisters, and police say they then wired the home with explosives. The explosives detonated later when a squad of Iraqi police was sent to investigate the crime. Several of the policemen were wounded by the blasts.

The U.N. High Commission for Refugees says more than 12,000 Iraqi Christians have fled Mosul after numerous kidnappings and killings, and threats made against them.

U.S. military forces and their Iraqi counterparts are waging an intensive campaign against al-Qaida and other Islamic militants in a battle to restore normalcy to the beleaguered city.

An operation called "Mother of Two Springs," an allusion to the Arabic name for Mosul, began last spring and picked up intensity in mid-October.

Mosul lies between northern Iraq's Kurdish region and the Sunni Arab heartland, and there is communal friction as well as violence from Islamic extremists aimed at U.S. and Iraqi forces.

One U.S. officer told Reuters news agency that the violence in Mosul resembled what was going on in Baghdad 18 months ago, before security was improved in the capital city.

Iraqi officials have repeatedly pledged to help protect the tiny, beleaguered Christian community in Mosul, but large numbers continue to flee to Kurdistan and elsewhere as Monsignor Paul Dahdah, the Apostolic Vicar in Beirut reveals. He says that he saw a family from Mosul that had fled the city for Lebanon in order to seek refuge, either in Beirut or to get a visa for a third country. The mother made it to Lebanon, via Syria, with her two children, he adds, but her husband was kidnapped and no one knows what happened to him.

The plight of Iraqi Christians has prompted the Vatican and other Christian organizations to lobby several Western governments for political and military action to protect the small remaining group of Chaldean Christians, Armenians, and Catholics.

But Monsignor Dahdah thinks more must be done. He says church leaders must insist that much more be done in terms of security in order to stop the exodus that has befallen the Christian community in Iraq, reducing their numbers to less than half their pre-2003 levels.

Dahdah blames the United States for the bad security situation in northern Iraq and thinks it is the United States' responsibility to restore order to Mosul.