By BosNewsLife Middle East Service
BAGHDAD, IRAQ (BosNewsLife)– A car bomb exploded Tuesday, August 2, outside a Christian church in northern Iraq, injuring at least 23 people, police said.
Authorities said the blast Tuesday damaged the church in Kirkuk as well as homes in the area.
At least 750,000 and perhaps 1.2 million Christians lived in Iraq before the 2003 invasion to oust leader Saddam Hussein. However, hundreds of thousands have since fled, in many cases to neighboring countries, because of stepped-up violence by al-Qaida-linked Muslim insurgents, according to local Christians and rights activists.
It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the latest blast, which was believed to have been carried out by Islamic militants.
In October 2010, al-Qaida militants carried out a deadly siege of a Christian church in Baghdad that left 46 worshipers dead.
Kirkuk is an oil-rich region that has long experienced tensions among its Arab, Kurdish and Turkmen communities. Arab residents oppose demands by the Kurds to annex Kirkuk to northern Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region.
Tuesday’s blast was condemned by the United States, which urged the Iraqi government to take steps necessary to improve protection of minority Christians.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a statement, said attacks on the Christian community in Iraq shows the depths to which “certain terrorist groups” will go to disrupt Iraq’s fragile peace.
“We are confident the government of Iraq will take all necessary steps to bring the people responsible for this horrific act to justice and continue its efforts to improve the security situation for all Iraqis, including those whose communities are threatened on the basis of their faith and beliefs,” she said.
In Europe Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini reportedly said that “Italy is committed to helping the Catholic community stay there.”