MOSUL - Iraq ordered nearly 1,000 police to patrol Christian areas of the northern city of Mosul on Sunday.
The action came as Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki ordered an immediate investigation into the killings of Christians in Mosul and pledged to take all steps necessary to protect the threatened community.
"We will take immediate action to resolve the problems and difficulties faced by Christians in Mosul," Maliki said in a statement released by his office after a crisis meeting with two Christian lawmakers.
Two brigades of national police were deployed in the city, interior ministry spokesman Abdul-Karim Khalaf said.
Despite the reinforcements, at least eight people including a Christian were killed in four separate attacks on Sunday, security officials said.
Two investigation teams, one security and the other criminal, have also been sent to probe a spate of attacks on Christians in Mosul since September 28, in which at least 12 members of the community have now been killed, Khalaf added.
Police were seen setting up checkpoints at churches in the city's four largely Christian areas and were patrolling the streets on foot.
At the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday condemned the violence against Christians in both Iraq and India.
"I invite you to pray for peace and reconciliation as situations cause concern and great suffering.... I think of violence against Christians in Iraq and India," he said.
Nearly 1,000 Christian families have fled their homes in the city since Friday, taking shelter on the northern and eastern fringes of Nineveh province, according to provincial governor Duraid Kashmula.
Kashmula said the violence was the worst against Christians in five years.
"(It) is the fiercest campaign against Christians since 2003," Kashmula said on Saturday. "Among those killed over the past 11 days were a doctor, an engineer and a handicapped person."
At least three homes of Christians were blown up by unidentified attackers on Saturday, security officials said.
In the latest incidents in the city, at least eight Iraqis were killed and several dozen wounded in four attacks, including a shooting and two suicide car bombs aimed at American and Iraqi soldiers, the US military and police said.
One Christian was killed and his nephew wounded late Sunday when unidentified gunmen opened fire in the eastern neighbourhood of Hay al-Ekhaa, an officer with the local police said.
Earlier a suicide car bomb targeting coalition forces killed five and wounded 10 Iraqis, US army spokesman Staff Sergeant Sam Smith said, adding that no American soldiers were among the casualties.
Among the dead were three young boys, he said.
"The second car bomb was targeting Iraqi police and wounded 25 Iraqis. We don't know how many were police or civilians," Smith said.
In another incident, two Iraqis died and three were hurt as a homemade device exploded outside a prison, a Mosul policeman said.
Since the US-led invasion of 2003 more than 200 Christians had been killed and a string of churches attacked, with the violence intensifying in recent weeks, particularly in the north.
Iraq's Christian community includes various denominations, including Syrian Orthodox and Catholic, Armenian Orthodox and Roman Catholic congregations.
A recent report by Iraq’s Ministry of Human Rights that sets out the number of deaths in different ethnic communities caused by direct or indirect attacks in Iraq between 2003 and the end of 2007 showed that only 172 fatalities were from Iraq’s Christians: 107 Chaldeans, 33 Orthodox, 24 Catholics, four Assyrians, three Anglicans and one Armenian.
The report added that about 9,000 Christians were living as IDPs.
Since the US-led invasion in 2003, some estimates put the figure of fatalities of Iraqis (mostly Sunnis and Shiites) up to one million innocent civilians. Over two million Iraqis are living as IDPs.
Observers say Christians are no more threatened than average Iraqis.
Attacks on Christians have increased in the north of Iraq after the recent formation of the country 's first Christian militia.