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ICC: Hat’s off to Aljazeera for covering this news.

Sombre Christmas in Iraq
Linda Isam Haddad and Nihal Salem

Iraq/Islam (Aljazeera) Rita and Maria Farid, two Iraqi Christians living in the central Baghdad district of Karrada, did not want to celebrate Christmas this year and only bought a tree at the last minute.

“Christmas is very difficult for us. It’s a time for family and friends, and this year for the first time, our family is incomplete,” Maria Farid said.

In early May, Majid Farid, their brother, was killed in a car bomb blast as he walked to a currency exchange centre not far from the family home.

. . .The Farid family is one of the relatively few Iraqi Armenian families remaining in the predominantly Shia area of Karrada. They moved from Basra to Baghdad during the Iran-Iraq war in the mid-1980s due to heavy bombing in southern Iraq.

Targeting Christians

Sectarian violence and religious persecution have forced an exodus of Christians to neighbouring countries, with the CFA saying only about 300,000 remain, many of whom are displaced within northern Iraq.

However, the numbers significantly jumped since the June 2007 killing of Father Ragheed Ganni, a Chaldean Catholic priest, and three sub-deacons who were with him, in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

The corpses were then rigged with explosives.

Though he had been threatened numerous times and his Holy Spirit parish attacked, Ganni had refused to leave the country.

Ganni’s death followed a trend of assassinations and kidnappings targeting the Christian community which began following the fall of Saddam Hussein’s government in 2003.

On August 2, 2004, more than a dozen Christian worshippers were killed when five Armenian, Assyrian and Chaldean churches came under co-ordinated attacks in the capital Baghdad and the northern city of Mosul.

Nine other churches were attacked before the end of the year.

Christian merchants who sold alcohol or music tapes and CDs were kidnapped and killed, their shops firebombed for “corrupting Islamic society”.

Iraq’s Christian heritage

In 2006, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) warned that religiously motivated attacks signaled “an exodus that may mean the end of the presence in Iraq of ancient Christian and other communities that have lived on those same lands for 2,000 years”.

The CFA says an estimated 20 percent of Iraqi refugees seeking asylum around the world in 2007 were Christian.

Despite the violence and targeting of the Christian communities in Iraq, Joseph Kassab, executive director of the CFA, said he does not encourage Iraqi Chaldeans to leave Iraq because it is their homeland.

But he acknowledged: “If there is any Christmas celebration in Iraq today, it’s a very passive one and quiet one, to say the least.”

Alice Marogil, an Iraqi Assyrian married to an Iraqi Chaldean, who left Iraq in 1976, is a social worker with the Chicago-based Interfaith Refugee and Immigration Ministries.

She has worked with at least one hundred Iraqi refugees of both Christian and Islamic faiths in the US.

While she acknowledges that Iraqis once celebrated Christian and Islamic holidays together, she believes as long as extremist militias and foreign terrorists stay in Iraq there will never be an end to the violence.

She said: “I do not see any light at the end of this tunnel. It’s a very, very dark one.

“As long as there is no strong leader and government that knows how to take control, the chaos and terror will go on and on. You will see.”