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Page last updated at 17:29 GMT, Friday, 17 October 2008 18:29 UK

Viewpoint: Mosul Christians

Nearly half of the Christian population of Mosul, in northern Iraq, have fled their homes following a rise in attacks against them, according to the UN. The US military and the Iraqi government say Mosul is a bastion for al-Qaeda.

Mosul resident Saad, a Sunni Muslim, visited a Christian friend who had recently left the city, and gave the BBC News website his view from the ground.

An Iraqi Christian family at a checkpoint north of Mosul
The UNHCR says nearly 10,000 Christians have fled Mosul

My friend is with his in-laws in one of the Christian villages north east of Mosul, Qara Qush, about 30km from the city.

I found a lot of Christian families there, many are staying in churches or schools. The winter months are coming, so it's not a good situation for them.

I heard there are many other families like this in nearby villages.

My friend said he had not been directly threatened, but he was afraid of what might happen if he stayed in Mosul. Three years ago his brother was killed for working with coalition forces, so he's become jumpy.

The two main theories for who is behind the violence are: First, that it's al-Qaeda and the remaining Saddamists and Baathists who are using Mosul as a stronghold. This is what the government and its allies believe, including the Kurds.

The second is that the Kurdish militias are behind it. Most of the Christians who have fled are from the east side of Mosul, which is a Kurdish area.

One of the Christian guys whispered to me that the Kurds want the Christians out so they will do better in the provincial elections in a few weeks' time.

Map

There is also concern about a new law which has dropped a guaranteed number of seats for minority groups on local councils.

Another theory is that the violence is a Christian conspiracy to drive Christians into their own areas which will have some kind of autonomy.

Personally, I have no idea who is behind it, but I think the attackers are taking advantage of the Christians' nature: peaceful, nice and prone to running away because they have no means of defending themselves.

In Mosul itself we have had a lot of police from Baghdad and a new battalion of Iraqi army troops has arrived.

But they make no difference on the ground. There are more checkpoints, but people are still being killed.




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