By Mohammed al-Qaisi in Baghdad
An Iraqi policeman lights a candle outside a Chaldean church in Baghdad’s al-Karrada al-Sharqiya neighbourhood. [Sabah Arar/AFP]
Baghdad authorities have drafted a major security and services plan to safeguard shoppers buying Christmas trees and other seasonal items and preparing for the upcoming celebrations.
A 10-metre Christmas tree, the largest displayed in Baghdad in many years, will be erected in central Baghdad’s al-Karrada al-Sharqiya district, said Baghdad provincial council cultural committee chairman Salah Abdul Razzak.
The preparations include decorating and lighting Baghdad churches and giving symbolic gifts to our Christian brothers, Abdul Razzak said.
“The festivities, which will be held in al-Karrada al-Sharqiya, where a majority of Christian families live, as well as in Baghdad al-Jadeeda and al-Mansour, will serve as a message of goodwill, love, and social unity among the various Iraqi communities,” he said.
Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Saad Maan said security forces have put the final touches on a plan to protect the Christmas celebrations.
Thousands of security personnel will take part in the plan, which will start on Christmas Eve and will include “securing all churches, monasteries, public parks, tourist resorts and markets, as well as residential areas where celebrations will be held and where citizens are expected to go out visiting each other”, he told Mawtani.
Early preparations included searches for explosives and car bombs and aimed to create an atmosphere of reassurance for city residents due to the visibility of security personnel protecting residential areas and public places, he said.
“The night curfew will be suspended on New Year’s Eve to enable the citizens to celebrate until a late hour,” Maan said.
“Hundreds of fireworks, dolls and flashing lights have been readied, and the high-rise buildings in Baghdad have been decorated and will be lit up on New Year’s Eve,” Baghdad mayor Naeem Aaboub told Mawtani.
Santa Claus also will be visiting orphanages and victims of terror to deliver gifts for the first time in Baghdad, he added.
On New Year’s Eve, entry into the city’s tourist sites and public parks will be free of charge, he said, and free public transport will be made available.
‘A message of peace’
The Rev. Sabah Boutros, of the Church of the Virgin Mary in Baghdad, praised the official preparations and security precautions, and expressed his hope that Christmas will be an opportunity to promote peace and unity.
“The sounds of our churches’ bells, like the sounds of mosques, convey a message of peace, and reject violence and terror,” he told Mawtani. “Nothing will divide us because we are brothers in this country.”
Boutros called on Iraqi Christians to pray to help Iraq move past its current troubles, defeat the language of bloodshed, and give prevalence to the language of peace.
“Sharing these celebrations with the Muslim community will have a special flavour and great joy, as it unifies us more and more,” he said.
Everyone hopes the coming year will be better than the previous one, and that it will herald the start of a new phase of stability, Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq told Mawtani.
“By celebrating the New Year, Iraqis are reaffirming their national identity before anything else, and the government will do all that is necessary to protect that,” he said.
Various shops and markets in Baghdad are seeing an influx of shoppers buying artificial Christmas trees, Santa Claus dolls, and colourful decorative lights, said gift shop owner Hadi Ahmed, 43.
“This is the second time I sold out all the goods in my shop, and I intend to bring in more merchandise,” said Ahmed.