Christian family gunned down; hundreds fleeing violence in city

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MOSUL, Iraqi — Violence against Christians in northern Iraq continues to intensify as the country's March 7 parliamentary elections draw closer.

A Christian man and his two sons were murdered Feb. 23 in Mosul when armed gunmen stormed their home, news services reported.

"It was a bloody day [Feb. 23] in Mosul," an Iraqi worker of Open Doors reported.

"In one house all the family members were killed — five people," he continued. "First the attackers drove by and shot from their car. Then they forced themselves into the house and gunned down the entire family. They even threw two bodies outside the house as a cruel warning for others."

The violence is worsening the flight of Iraqi Christians from the country, said Emil Shimoun Nona, the Chaldean archbishop of Mosul, according to news reports.

"It is very difficult to live in this kind of situation," Nona said. "It is panic, panic always. The Christians don't know what will happen to them. It is the same everywhere — in the office, at school or even at home. They don't know if somebody is going to kill them."

Nona succeeded Paulos Faraj Rahho, who was kidnapped and murdered in March 2008.

"For years Christians have been targeted in Mosul and the surrounding area," said Open Doors USA President/CEO Carl Moeller. "It is one of the most violent areas in Iraq. The massacre of an entire family and the other murders is horrible. It is getting more violent they're every day."

While Iraq in general has grown more peaceful over the past two years, violence is an almost daily occurrence in Mosul, where Arabs, Kurds and al-Qaeda extremists are fighting for control. The country's minority Christian community often is targeted by the factions who want to intimidate them from voting or by al-Qaeda militants who want to derail elections. Iraqi law reserves a small quota of seats in parliament for Christians.

More than 40 percent of all Iraqi refugees are Christians, even though they made up less than 4 percent of the population, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Iraq's Chaldean Assyrians, who are the country's indigenous people, numbered about 1 million when Saddam Hussein was deposed in 2003, according to the U.S. Department of State. An estimated 400,000 Christians have been forced to flee the country since then and many of the approximately 600,000 Christians remaining in Iraq are internally displaced.

BP news and wire reports used in this story.

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