Iraqi Christians flee homes amid militant push

ALQOSH, Iraq (AP) — Iraqi Christians are fleeing to the Nineveh plain and the largely autonomous region of Kurdistan after fighters belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant swept over the city of Mosul and a broad swath of the country in the past week.

The chaos is destroying Chaldean, Armenian and Assyrians communities that date back to Christianity's earliest days.

Iraq was estimated to have more than 1 million Christians before the U.S.-led invasion and toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Now, church officials estimate only 450,000 remain within Iraq's borders. Militants have targeted Christians in repeated waves in Baghdad and the north. The Chaldean Catholic cardinal was kidnapped in 2008 by extremists and killed. Churches around the country have been bombed repeatedly.

The Vatican for years has voiced concern about the flight of Christians from the Middle East, driven out by war, poverty and discrimination.

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