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Gunmen storm Christians' homes in northern Iraq, killing two

By Jomana Karadsheh, CNN
  • Mosul attacks and a bombing are the latest targeting Christians in Iraq
  • Nationwide, 7 people die and dozens are wounded Monday in attacks
  • Al Qaeda remains active despite some leadership losses, U.S. general says

Baghdad, Iraq (CNN) -- Gunmen stormed two adjacent homes in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul late Monday and shot dead two men, the latest in a series of attacks targeting Christians, an Iraqi Interior Ministry official said.

Around the country Monday, at least seven Iraqis were killed and dozens wounded in attacks, according to the official. Some of the worst violence occurred in Mosul, Iraq's third largest city located about 261 miles (420 kilometers) north of Baghdad.

On Monday night, attackers went into two homes occupied by Christian families in the al-Tahrir neighborhood in the eastern part of the city, killed the two male heads of the households, then drove off, the interior ministry official said.

In central Mosul, about the same time, a bomb detonated outside a Christian's home. No one was hurt in that blast, which damaged the house's exterior.

At least three people were killed and 28 wounded November 9 and 10 in attacks targeting Christians, including bombings outside Christians' homes in western Baghdad, an Iraqi interior ministry official told CNN. Also, a group called the Islamic State of Iraq claimed responsibility for the October 31 siege of the Sayidat al-Nejat Cathedral that left 70 people dead and 75 wounded, including 51 congregants and two priests.

That violence led the United States, the U.N. Security Council and an American Catholic archbishop to express concerns for Christians and other religious groups in Iraq.

Attacks in October 2008 on Christians in Mosul prompted a mass exodus from that city of 1.8 million. Many Christian families in Iraq who spoke to CNN said they feared for their safety and wanted to leave the country, but didn't have the means to do so.

Cardinal Emmanuel Delly III -- the patriarch of Iraq's largest Christian community, the Chaldean Catholic Church -- urged Iraqi Christians in a televised address on Thursday to "stand firm" in their country during these "difficult times."

Other attacks Monday targeted government authorities. That included another in Mosul, in which two parked car bombs detonated nearly simultaneously outside a complex that mainly houses prison guards. At least two people -- the prison's commander and one guard -- died in that explosion and another 20 were wounded, the official said.

Police officials in Mosul said the bombing took place around noon in the town of Badoush, about 6 miles (10 kilometers) west of Mosul. Local officials said the cars containing the bombs were parked inside the compound when they detonated.

The complex is about two-thirds of a mile (1 kilometer) from Badoush Prison, which is one of Iraq's main prisons and holds detainees from across the country, including suspected al Qaeda members. The attack came one day after a suicide car bombing killed at least two Iraqi soldiers in Mosul.

In Western Iraq's al-Anbar province, at least two civilian were killed and four others wounded in three roadside bomb attacks in two towns, according to provincial security officials.

In the first attack, in the town of al-Qaim, west of Ramadi, a roadside bomb detonated near a hospital, killing one civilian.

Also in al-Qaim, a roadside bombing targeting Iraqi police killed a factory guard.

In al-Karmah, east of Falluja, a roadside bomb detonated at a police checkpoint, wounding at least four civilians.

In Baghdad, two roadside bomb attacks Monday morning left at least one Iraqi police officer dead and seven other people wounded, the Interior Ministry official said.

The officer was killed when a bomb detonated at a checkpoint in eastern Baghdad. A second policeman and a civilian were wounded in the bombing.

In central Baghdad, a roadside bomb struck a police patrol, wounding at least two officers and three civilian bystanders.

Also in the capital, at least three rockets struck the heavily fortified International Zone, formerly known as the Green Zone, on Sunday evening, the official said.

There were no reports of casualties or damages in the International Zone, which houses the Iraqi government headquarters, the U.S. Embassy and other foreign missions.

Over the past week, the International Zone has come under rocket or mortar attacks almost daily.

While overall violence across the country has dropped compared to the height of the sectarian war in 2006 and 2007, there has been an uptick in attacks since Iraq's national elections in March.

Incumbent Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is expected to form his new Cabinet and present it for a parliamentary vote of confidence late next month.

In a press briefing Saturday, the top U.S. commander in Iraq acknowledged the increase in violence and attributed it to the political situation.

"Recently we have seen a rise in security incidents," Gen. Lloyd Austin III told reporters in Baghdad. "We knew that as we approach government formation we would see an increase in activity. We also knew that based upon the way that we template al Qaeda's action here, we were clearly in the window of some further action by al Qaeda. So it came as no surprise to us."

Al Qaeda still has the capability to undertake attacks and finance their operations, the general said.

"We've taken out a number of mid- to senior-grade leaders out of the network over time, but they've always had an impressive ability to regenerate capability here," Austin said.