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ICC Note: Even as the future for Christians in Iraq is in question, the spirit of the Christmas season was on display for the few remaining Christians in Baghdad. A large Christmas tree and celebrations, including fireworks helped to celebrate the holiday, even as the reality of religious and ethnic cleansing lies just miles away.

12/24/2015 Iraq (Washington Post) In a bid to show solidarity with Iraq’s embattled Christian minority, local authorities in Baghdad have put on an official Christmas celebration this year.

Fireworks have been set off over the Tigris in Baghdad every night this week in celebration, and refugees at local camps have been receiving visits from Santa Claus, Reuters reports. A Christmas tree, said to be the biggest in the Middle East, has been installed in an amusement park in the city.

The move comes amid increasing concern that Christianity in the Middle East is facing an unprecedented threat from religious extremism and sectarianism. “In some areas of the Middle East where church bells have rung for centuries on Christmas Day, this year they will be silent,” President Obama said in a statement released Thursday, citing Islamic State atrocities against Christians in the region.

Iraq’s Christian communities, largely made up of ethnic Assyrians, are some of the world’s oldest, with a history that dates to almost 2,000 years. For most of that time, Christians have had a relatively peaceful relationship with their Muslim neighbors and rulers, often enjoying exemption from Islamic religious law.

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