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Iraqi Christians attacked

BAGHDAD -- Militants in Iraq targeted Christians in three separate Christmas Day bombings in Baghdad, killing at least 37 people, officials said Wednesday.

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

Earlier, two bombs ripped through a nearby outdoor market simultaneously in the Christian section of Athorien, killing 11 people and wounding 21, the officer said.

The Iraq-based leader of the Chaldean Catholic Church, Louis Sako, said the parked-car bomb exploded after Christmas Mass and that none of the worshippers was hurt. Sako said he didn't believe the church was the target.

There were no claims of responsibility for the attacks, but Iraq's dwindling Christian community, which is estimated to number 400,000 to 600,000 people, often has been targeted by al-Qaida and other insurgents who see the Christians as heretics.

There were about 1.5 million Iraqi Christians before 2003, but the numbers have dwindled and Christians continue to emigrate.

Those who remain celebrate in churches protected by heavy barricades and other security measures.

The Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has made some gestures to try to reassure the Christian community of its place in the nation, including making Christmas a national holiday.

The government also is in the middle of a major military operation in the western desert aimed at rooting out the terrorists who have sent violence in Iraq to the highest levels since 2008. More than 8,000 people have been killed this year, according to United Nations estimates.

The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad condemned the attacks in a statement.

"The Christian community in Iraq has suffered deliberate and senseless targeting by terrorists for many years, as have many other innocent Iraqis," the statement read. "The United States abhors all such attacks and is committed to its partnership with the government of Iraq to combat the scourge of terrorism."

Along with Christians, other targets include civilians in restaurants, cafes or crowded public areas, as well as Shiites and members of the Iraqi security forces, attacked 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.


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