Iraq sends aid to Christians fleeing violence

The Iraqi government sent blankets and food Thursday to help thousands of Christians who have fled a violent campaign against them in the northern city of Mosul.

The recent killings in Mosul, widely blamed on al-Qaida in Iraq, coincided with stepped-up lobbying efforts by Christians to ensure their representation in upcoming provincial elections in the primarily Muslim country.

The president of the semiautonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, Massoud Barzani, said the omission of a minority quota in a recently passed elections law was a “big mistake.” He called on Parliament to pass a new law that would restore it.

Barzani also promised to help the federal government in its “efforts to provide the equivalent protection for our Christian brothers” and to “secure for them all kind of assistance and protection.” Kurdistan borders Ninevah province, which includes Mosul.

More than 1,400 families have fled Mosul to nearby villages and towns, according to the Iraqi Ministry of Displacement and Migration. Emergency aid was dispatched to help humanitarian organizations struggling to care for the Christian refugees, Minister Abdul-Samad Rahman said.

Farther south, meanwhile, a heavy sandstorm turned the Iraqi capital into a pinkish haze Thursday, sending dozens of people to the hospital with respiratory problems and delaying a number of international flights.

On the streets of Baghdad, people covered their mouths with masks, scarves and other bits of clothing as sand whipped across the city. Doctors said the weather was aggravating respiratory conditions, especially among the elderly.

Sandstorms are a regular occurrence in Baghdad, which is shielded from the desert by a thin strip of arable land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

The U.S. military also reported two American troop deaths, including a soldier who was killed Thursday in a rocket or mortar attack in Diyala province, north of Baghdad. The other soldier died of noncombat causes late Wednesday in Baghdad.