IRAQ: A Christian party to celebrate religious diversity

santa_in_baghdad2.jpgTrying to prove just how much safer Baghdad is these days, Iraqi officials threw a party for Christians on Saturday, complete with huge event posters featuring pictures of Jesus Christ.

A skinny Santa Claus draped in an Iraqi flag also made an appearance, waving and posing for photos.

The crowd of both Christians and Muslims –- despite being slightly outnumbered by the huge security detail protecting the event -– called it a positive sign for the country.

“Such activities make me feel happy and joyful,” said Saba Tariq, 40, a Shiite Muslim who attended the “Master of the Spirit” celebration. “It reminds me that we are rejecting the ideas of sectarianism. Before, it was getting to the point where we didn’t trust our neighbors.”

Amu Baba, a famous Iraqi soccer coach and a Christian, said he wasn’t sure what to expect from the event. But when he arrived and saw the mixed crowd so openly celebrating different religions, he said, “This should prove to Christians who live abroad that they should return to their beloved country, which is Iraq.”

A spokesman for the Interior Ministry, which sponsored the event, told the Al Sharq al Awsat newspaper that the main objective of Saturday’s event was “to take another step forward in improving the social relations among Iraqis, especially for our Christian brothers who share this homeland with us.”

The spokesman, Brig. Gen. Alaa Taie, said more than 400 Christian families had recently returned to Dora, a neighborhood that had been plagued by violence against Christians.

— Kimi Yoshino in Baghdad