Christmas celebrations cancelled in Iraq

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by Rebecca Paveley
Patriarch calls for prayer, as protests in Iraq continue
Demonstrators stand on an Iraqi security forces’ check point during protests in Baghdad, last week
CHRISTMAS celebrations have been cancelled in Iraq, out of respect for the more than 450 people killed in the ongoing protests against the government.

The Patriarch of the Chaldean Church in Iraq, which comprises 80 per cent of the Christian community in the country, has said that money that would have been spent on celebrations will, instead, be donated to help wounded protesters and the children left orphaned by the violence. Christmas will be marked only by prayers, and the Christmas tree in Baghdad has been left bare, decorated only with photos of those killed in the demonstrations.

The Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon and Archbishop of Baghdad, the Most Revd Louis Raphaël Sako, said: “Morally and spiritually, we cannot celebrate in such an atmosphere of tension. It’s not normal to celebrate our joy and happiness while others are dying.”

The protests began in October, prompted by anger over corruption, public services, and the influence of Iran in Iraq (News, 11 October). Protesters have been killed in the streets, and many have disappeared from their homes.

The small Christian population in Iraq, which has been reduced by two thirds since the invasion by a United States-led coalition 16 years ago, supported the protesters’ demands, the Patriarch said.

In an interview with the Associated Press news agency, the Patriarch said: “We have suffered a lot. Since the collapse of the old regime, many have been killed, others kidnapped, others threatened and left, and many homes and properties of Christians have been occupied by militias.

“So the protesters are telling them [the government] we look for justice and stability and to be equal citizens. We ask for the same justice for ourselves.”

He also published an article on his website, comparing the protests to those in Latin America which gave birth to liberation theology.

“I believe that this precious blood and huge sacrifices will make Iraq rise as a new decent homeland that embraces all of its components equally,” he wrote.

The Chaldean Archbishop of Erbil, the Most Revd Bashar Matti Warda, told the UN Security Council last week that the fact that Christians had been welcomed into the protest movement “demonstrates real hope for positive changes in which a new government in Iraq . . . will be much more positive towards a genuinely multi-religious Iraq with full citizenship for all, and an end to this sectarian disease which has so violently harmed and degraded us all.”

Speaking after the meeting, Archbishop Warda said that Christians and other minorities in Iraq stood with “Muslim protesters, as together they seek a better life, based on equality regardless of religious belief”.

He said: “Either Iraq will develop as these protesters hope, moving away from political violence and the current sectarian power-structure, and taking its rightful place among nations who respect the rights of all regardless of their faith, or it will slide backwards: a fate previewed in the killing of protesters and most notably with the genocide and other carnage at the hands of ISIS.

“In this latter case, Iraqi sovereignty, too, will be undermined as its strong neighbours meddle in its internal affairs.”