A nearly simultaneous series of car bombings has hit churches in two Iraqi cities. Officials say at least four churches were attacked in Baghdad and one in the northern city of Mosul. Casualty figures are still coming in, but it looks like the death toll will be significant. It is the first time that Iraq's Christian minority has been specifically targeted in the 15-month insurgency.
The attacks came on a Sunday evening, as mass was being held in at least one of the churches.
Two of the bombed houses of worship in Baghdad are within 500 meters of each other in the upscale Karada neighborhood. The car bombs damaged not just the churches but nearby buildings as well.
There was chaos outside as American and Iraqi soldiers tried to keep the crowd clear of the scene, while distraught parishioners and neighbors strained to find out the fate of their friends and relatives.
Tomas Ramzi is a driver for Our Lady of Deliverance Syrian Catholic church. He waved urgently to someone he saw leaving the devastated area, but the soldiers would not let him get any closer.
"Please, I am working here, and I just want to find out if my friends are still alive or not," Mr. Ramzi said.
He says he saw one of the church's clergymen on television, visibly wounded, and rushed to the scene to find out if he was still alive. He says the priest is like a brother to him.
Mr. Ramzi and other parishioners and local residents grew agitated as they struggled to get information about what was going on inside the security perimeter.
Until now, the Christian minority in Iraq has not been directly attacked by insurgents. These bombs targeted four churches in three different Baghdad neighborhoods and at least one church in Mosul.
Despite the clear targeting of Christians in two different cities, few of them appeared to believe that these attacks set them apart from their non-Christian countrymen.
"This is brutality, and this attack is not just against Christians, it is against all Iraqis," Mr. Ramzi said.
Some of the Iraqi soldiers assigned to secure the area are clearly just as exasperated with the ongoing terrorist attacks. One soldier, Raued Al-Asadi, issued a public plea to his countrymen.
"I want to ask all Iraqis, please help us," he said. "Please tell us about the terrorists, because they are coming here to kill us and to kill you." He says, "We should cooperate to control the situation. Please help us."
There are about 750,000 Christians in Iraq. Most belong to the Roman Catholic Church, but there are also Orthodox worshipers, as well as Syrian and Armenian Catholics, which are the two denominations whose churches were attacked in Karada.