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Greatest gift for Iraqi Christians — returning home

Hundreds of families are returning from exile. Security has improved and worshipers at Christmas services hope for peace. But violence is never far away.

ICC Note

Some Iraqi Christians are returning home from exile, whereas in some parts of Iraq , Christians live with insecurity amid violence.

By Kimi Yoshino and Ali Hameed

12/26/2008 Iraq (Los Angles Times)-Reporting from Baghdad — Three years ago, a note appeared at Lita Kaseer’s door. It contained a bullet and a one-word message: “Leave.”

Kaseer fled, along with hundreds of other Christian families in the Dora neighborhood in southwest Baghdad , once a vibrant Christian community.

This year, she returned home from Syria , and on Thursday, attended Christmas Mass with her husband and 7-month-old son.

“It’s always better to come home,” said her husband, Khalid Kamil, 34. “In any other place, you are a stranger. . . . This is not the way our life should be.”

Hundreds of Christians gathered to celebrate Christmas in Baghdad , most acknowledging that improved security conditions have allowed them to move more freely throughout the city after returning from years-long exiles in Syria , Egypt , Jordan or Iraq ‘s northern Kurdistan region.

For the first time in memory, the Iraqi government declared Christmas a national holiday. And last week, a community event was held at a park to celebrate the spirit of Christmas. Large posters depicting a portrait of Jesus and a Christmas tree could be spotted around town.

“As Christians, we feel like we have a real presence in Iraq , and rights,” said Lena Ayat, 19.

“I feel safer,” agreed her mother, Lameya Mashreq. “We are free to choose the clothes that we wear.”

Not that conditions are now ideal throughout Iraq .

In the northern city of Mosul , Christians celebrated quietly, fearing violence. More than 900 Christian families fled the city as recently as October after attacks by Sunni Arab militants.

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