For Iraq's Christians, a Difficult Christmas

Many are avoiding celebrating for fear of violence

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Though Iraq has stabilized since the darkest days of the seven-year war, there is one group for whom the war's worst violence never faded: Christians. One of the oldest Christian communities in the Middle East, much of the Iraqi minority has fled the country in recent years. Those who have remained face constant threat of violence. As the rest of Iraq moves closer to peace, Iraqi Christians are at especially high risk this year. In November, a fresh wave of attacks targeted churches and Christians, including the lengthy siege of a Baghdad church that ended in almost 60 deaths. The country's Archbishop told the Wall Street Journal, "These are the worst and most perilous times." In response, many in Iraq are skipping Christmas celebrations this year.

  • No Christmas for Iraqi Families  The Associated Press reports, "No decorations, no midnight Mass. Even an appearance by Santa Claus has been nixed after Iraq's Christian leaders called off Christmas celebrations amid new al Qaeda threats on the tiny community still terrified from a bloody siege on a Baghdad church. ... Church officials in Baghdad, as well as in the northern cities of Kirkuk and Mosul and the southern city of Basra, said they will not put up Christmas decorations or celebrate midnight Mass. They urged worshippers not to decorate their homes."
  • A Time of 'Mourning' and 'Fear'  The Globe and Mail's Margaret Wente says Christmas in Iraq is "not a time for celebration" but "a time for mourning, and for fear." While the Iraqi government has "vowed" to protect and provide security for its Christians, hopes in the community are low. As Archbishop Louis Sako put it, "no one expects anything from the government as far as protecting Christians."

While we enjoy our holidays, Iraq's Christians can look to a future of even greater danger. On the eve of the 2003 American-led invasion, its Christian population was nearly 1 million. Today, that number has plummeted to an estimated 350,000. More flee daily.

This "religicide" of Christians holds disturbing parallels to a previous systematic, intentional effort to eliminate another religious community from Iraq. ... Iraq's Jewish population was subjected to systematic persecution for parts of the [1940s]; by 1951, 100,000 were forced to leave for Israel. Staged trials led to the public hanging of Jews in the aftermath of Israel's Six-Day War. Today, virtually nothing remains of Iraq's once-vibrant Jewish community. Unless the world takes action, this is the fate that awaits Iraq's Christians.

  • Why Terrorists Target Iraqi Christians  The Wall Street Journal's Sam Dagher explains why "Extremists have targeted Iraqi Christians and their churches repeatedly since the 2003 U.S. invasion." He writes, "A U.S. commander said Christians remain a 'convenient' target for attention-seeking militant groups in Iraq whose reasoning, the commander believes, is that such attacks usually provoke an outcry from Western governments and media outlets. The commander said other motives include a desire by extremist groups to 'purify' Iraq of people they perceive as infidels, or their association of Christians with U.S. forces."
  • Don't Rush to Blame the U.S. Invasion  While blogger Micheal Heath says there is certainly "culpability" for the U.S. invasion, of which he was no supporter, it's probably more complicated. "I think it might be overly simplistic to reactively lay all the responsibility on the 2003 U.S. invasion," he writes. "Conditions were changing in the Middle East after 9/11 and given Saddam Hussein's tyrannical tendencies ... he might very well have been tempted to frame fight against his enemies as a war between Islam and Christianity."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.