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5 Baghdad Churches Bombed - 2004-10-16


In an apparent coordinated attack, five churches in Baghdad were bombed Saturday morning. There were no reports of injuries, but some of the churches were damaged extensively. The attack occurred just as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan began.

While parishioners stood in burned out churches crying and begging for God's forgiveness, others began the task of removing broken glass and rubble.

In less than two hours, five churches were damaged by bombs, some extensively.

A few hours later, a mortar struck near a sixth church, but caused no damage to the structure. Mortars also struck near a hospital in Baghdad and a hotel frequented by foreigners.

At St. Joseph's Cathedral in Baghdad, Father Lewis Shabi said, now was not the time to talk about what had happened. He said, it is time to pray.

"We are not very happy in the situation, and we pray for God to help us, and to give us peace," Father Shabi said.

The Greek Orthodox church in Baghdad was all but destroyed by a bomb that was planted at the front of the church.

Just a few meters away, neighbor Sadr Chinabi was about to begin his Islamic prayers when the explosion occurred.

Mr. Chinabi said he was just beginning to pray with his family, when he saw a huge flash of light and heard a huge explosion. He says there was fire everywhere, and all the windows of the church had been destroyed.

Mr. Chinabi said, whoever did this, is trying to divide Muslims and Christians. But, he said they would fail because Muslims and Christians are all brothers.

Living across the street, Raad Obeid said the church was built in 1962, when he was a young boy. He says his Muslim mother would often pray in the church. Now, he says, he feels only sadness.

"I cant believe this is a human being who would do these things, actually, so I am very sad at this moment, believe me," said Raad Obeid. "I was crying and shouting, "No, my God, it's horrible. The church is burning. Come on, help me do something, please."

Iraq's Christian community numbers less than a million, among the 25 million people who live in Iraq.

In August, coordinated attacks struck four churches in Baghdad and one in Mosul in northern Iraq. Numerous people were killed and dozens were wounded.

With the Islamic holy month of Ramadan now underway, such attacks were anticipated by Iraqi interim government officials, who said insurgents would likely attempt to drive a wedge between Muslims and Christians in Iraq.

Back at St. Joseph's Cathedral, Father Shabi said he knows who carried out the attacks.

"The devil, who has no God, no religion, no humanity and is against all the people of the world," he said.

And, as Father Shabi put it, "Only the devil, himself, would disagree."

In the meantime, the Iraqi interim government has extended by two days a deadline for loyalists to Muslim Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to hand over their medium and heavy weapons in the Baghdad suburb of Sadr City. Once U.S. forces verify that no major weapons caches remain in the impoverished community, Iraqi police and National Guard will assume control of the city's streets. The original deadline for the handover was Friday.

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