A Sabean cemetery in Iraq's multi-ethnic northern city of Kirkuk has been vandalised this week, with some 20 graves desecrated, a local official belonging to the dwindling sect said on Thursday.
"Unknown people damaged or destroyed 20 graves on Tuesday and Wednesday and removed the fence surrounding the Sabean cemetery," Ghassan Mouslem Bardi, a member of the provincial council, told AFP.
"We condemn this desecration and the destruction of these graves. Such acts are prohibited by all religions and all communities. The provincial government must provide money to repair the graves," he said.
The cemetery, which is located in southern Kirkuk, 240 kilometres (150 miles) north of Baghdad, was built in 1978 and contains around 100 graves.
Bardi said there were several thousand Sabeans living in the city, whose families had been there for generations.
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"It is a major act of cowardice against the Sabeans, which has caused pain in our community. We must be protected," said Waad Haitham, 35, who is in charge of the Sabean temple in Kirkuk.
Also known as Mandaeans, the Sabeans traditionally speak a variety of Aramaic, the language of Christ.
They call Adam their prophet and revere John the Baptist -- "saba" is Aramaic for baptise, "manda" means knowledge.
They trace their roots to pre-Christian times and some scholars believe the sect was a heretical branch of Judaism that spread south through the land of the two rivers, or Mesopotamia, in the second century AD.
At the start of the 1980s, they numbered more than 100,000 in Iraq, but the community was already on the decline during the Iran and Kuwait wars waged by Iraq's now executed dictator Saddam Hussein.
Already the community had been cut to no more than 35,000 members when the US-led invasion of 2003 toppled Saddam. Today their numbers are estimated at around 5,000.