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Yet another dark Christmas for Iraqi Christians

Yet another dark Christmas for Iraqi Christians
It’s Christmas in Baghdad and once again the Christians of Iraq are undergoing a dark phase of life, amidst bombs and barbwires.
On Wednesday, it has been reported that at least 34 people have been killed by bomb attacks in the Christian areas. This reminds of the story of 2010, when due to bomb attacks in church, several were killed and wounded.
As prayers are offered and gifts handed out, many are wondering what a surge in violence to its worst levels in half a decade and politicking ahead of April elections means for a community whittled down by years of carnage and migration.
On Christmas Eve, the Mar Yousif Syriac Catholic church in western Baghdad looked like a walled fortress. Under the strict security of the soldiers and police bomb detection had been done. All most all cars, including private cars, trucks, etc. were searched thoroughly.
Inside, the red confetti-strewn Christmas tree, bright blue-and-white tile mosaic, and strings of Santa Claus-themed bunting contrasted with drab streets strewn with concrete blocks and barbed wire outside.
But pews which would have overflowed with worshippers a few years ago were barely two-thirds full - a reflection of the fact that the Christian community has fallen from about 1.5 million before the U.S.-led invasion to about half that.
Tuesday night, a human right activist, William Warda proclaimed that the future is very critical due to the immigration. It has been estimated that 10 to 20 Christians are leaving the country each day due to the fear and looming terror.
"Many Christians ... are fleeing from the country because of this issue, because there is no sign of a bright future."
TANKS, PILGRIMS AND SANTA CLAUS
Accepting the fact that the situation is totally out of control, Warda also stated that some glimpses of positive vibes are there. Organizers felt secure enough, for instance, to move mass to 8:00 p.m. (5:00 GMT) after holding it earlier in the day in previous years.
Warda said he hoped recent gestures by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Shi'ite-led government, such as making Christmas a national holiday for the first time this year, would encourage more Christians to stay.
Parliamentary elections are coming up next year and with car bombs, shootings and suicide attacks a more or less daily occurrence, security is certain to be on voters' minds. There is plenty of evidence that authorities are eager to cast themselves as a national force of stability and security after over a decade of war and acrid political divisions.
Christmas Eve overlapped this year not only with the Shi'ite holy day of Arbain, but also with a major army offensive in desert areas of the Sunni-dominated western Anbar province aimed at flushing out al Qaeda militants. Throughout the day, images of tanks rolling through the desert alongside heavily-armed troops were interspersed on state television with pictures of Shi'ite pilgrims dressed in black and others of people in Santa Claus outfits.
While on the other hand, Christian leaders around the world, especially in Arab are being alarmed by the rise of the headline Islamists.
"Immigration is not the solution," said Monsignor Pios Cacha, a priest at Mar Yousif.
"Leaving the country means wiping out our identity, it means the end of our presence here. And our presence as Christians is a symbol of peace," he added.
In Iraq, Christian minorities share ground with majority Shi'ites in that both groups see themselves as victims of militants linked to al Qaeda who have stepped up attacks against Maliki's government and its supporters this year.
It was perhaps with these impressions in mind that Ammar Al-Hakim, one of Iraq's most powerful Shi'ite politicians, visited Mar Yousif's Christmas Eve mass.
Although the microphone cut out halfway through his 15-minute speech, worshippers applauded when Hakim finished.
Outside, the dark, palm-lined streets were empty except for the soldiers, police and bodyguards standing guard.

Updated 27 Dec 2013 | Soruce: Reuters | By S.Seal
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