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Bomb Attacks on Christians Kill 37 in Baghdad on Christmas

One car bomb exploded during Christmas Mass.

An Iraq member of the Sahwa or Awakening Council, up of former Sunni rebels who sided with US soldiers against Al-Qaeda during Iraq's brutal insurgency, stands guard at the entrance to a market close to the scene of a car bomb, in the Dora district of the capital Baghdad on December 25, 2013, that targeted the St. John church as worshippers left after Christmas Mass, killing at least 17 people, most of them Christians, security officials said. AFP PHOTO/ALI AL-SAADI ALI AL-SAADI/AFP/Getty Images

Story by the Associated Press/curated by Madeleine Morgenstern

BAGHDAD (AP) -- Militants in Iraq targeted Christians in two separate bomb attacks in Baghdad on Wednesday, killing at least 37 people, officials said.

In one attack, a car bomb went off near a church during Christmas Mass in the capital's southern Dora neighborhood, killing at least 26 people and wounding 38, a police officer said.

An Iraqi member of the Sahwa, or Awakening Council, made up of former Sunni rebels who sided with U.S. soldiers against Al Qaeda during Iraq's brutal insurgency, stands guard at the entrance to a market close to the scene of a car bomb in the Dora district of Baghdad that targeted the St. John church as worshipers left after Christmas Mass, killing at least 17 people, most of them Christians, on Dec. 25, 2013, officials said. (AFP/Getty Images/Ali Al-Saadi)

A little bit earlier, a bomb ripped through an outdoor market in the nearby Christian section of Athorien, killing 11 people and wounding 21, the officer added.

An Iraqi member of the Sahwa, or Awakening Council, made up of former Sunni rebels who sided with U.S. soldiers against Al Qaeda during Iraq's brutal insurgency, stands guard at the entrance to a market close to the scene of a car bomb in the Dora district of Baghdad that targeted the St. John church as worshipers left after Christmas Mass, killing at least 17 people, most of them Christians, on Dec. 25, 2013, officials said. (AFP/Getty Images/Ali Al-Saadi)

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks, but Iraq's dwindling Christian community, which is estimated to number about 400,000 to 600,000 people, has often been targeted by al-Qaida and other insurgents who see the Christians as unbelievers.

Along with Christians, other targets include civilians in restaurants, cafes or crowded public areas, as well as Shiites and also members of the Iraqi security forces, who are targeted in an attempt to undermine confidence in the Shiite-led government and stir up Iraq's already simmering sectarian tensions.

Iraqi Christians attend a Christmas mass at the Mother Teresa Catholic Church in Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, 340 miles southeast of Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Dec 25, 2013. Militants on Wednesday launched two separate attacks against Christians in Baghdad. (AP/Nabil al-Jurani))

A medical official confirmed the casualty figures. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk to the media.

Wednesday's bombings came amid a massive military operation in Iraq's western desert as authorities try to hunt down insurgents who have stepped up attacks across Iraq in the past months, sending violence to levels not seen since 2008.

An Iraqi Christian woman lights candles before a Christmas mass at the Mother Teresa Catholic Church in Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, 340 miles southeast of Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Dec 25, 2013. Militants on Wednesday launched two separate attacks against Christians in Baghdad. (AP/Nabil al-Jurani))

The Christmas Day attacks brought the total number of people killed so far this month in Iraq to 441. According to U.N. estimates, more than 8,000 people have been killed since the start of the year.

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