Archbishop urges Iraqi Christians to leave country

An Iraqi archbishop will urge Christians to leave the country, after gunmen targeted a church in Baghdad, according to a report by the BBC.

The UK-based Archbishop Athanasios Dawood, who has criticised in the past the lack of protection for Iraqi Christians, was due to speak at a service at the Syrian Orthodox Church in London today, when he was expected to call for Christians in Iraq to leave.

At least 52 people died when security forces stormed a Catholic church in Baghdad to free dozens of hostages being held after militant gunmen entered Our Lady of Salvation during Mass last week.

The gunmen demanded the release of al Qa’eda prisoners and a number of Muslim women they insisted were being held prisoner by the Coptic Church in Egypt.

Iraqi security forces stormed the building, before the gunmen reportedly threw grenades and detonated their suicide vests.

Archbishop Dawood is expected to advise all Christians to leave Iraq now that al Qa’eda has warned that Christians will be subject to more attacks. He is also expected to call on the UK government to grant Christian Iraqis asylum.

Meanwhile the French Embassy in Baghdad says it plans to send dozens of Iraqis injured in last week's attack to France, according to AFP.

It quoted an unnamed French diplomat as saying: "There are 37 people who were wounded in the October 31 attack and 20 others accompanying them."

The Christian population in Baghdad has now dwindled to around 150,000, a third of their former population in the capital.