Iraqi cities preparing for large Christmas celebrations

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Members of the Nineveh Protection Units stand guard outside the Church Mar Eddie the Apostle during Christmas mass in the predominantly Christian Iraqi town of Qaraqosh. (AFP)
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Iraqi Christians attend mass on Christmas eve at the Grand Immaculate Church in the predominantly Christian Iraqi town of Qaraqosh. (AFP)
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Iraqi Christians attend a mass on Christmas Eve at the Grand Immaculate Church in al-Hamdaniya, near Mosul, Iraq December 24, 2018. (Reuters)
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A member of the Nineveh Protection Units stands guard outside the Church Mar Eddie the Apostle during Christmas mass in the predominantly Christian Iraqi town of Qaraqosh. (AFP)
Updated 24 December 2018

Iraqi cities preparing for large Christmas celebrations

  • With security threats at their lowest level in five years, Iraqi cities are preparing for largescale Christmas celebrations
  • Local authorities nationwide have set up large decorated Christmas trees in main squares

BAGHDAD: With security threats at their lowest level in five years, Iraqi cities are preparing for largescale Christmas celebrations, Christian clerics and officials told Arab News on Sunday.
Local authorities nationwide have set up large decorated Christmas trees in main squares. Shops in Kardaa, a neighborhood in southern Baghdad that includes many churches, are filled with Christmas decorations and accessories.
Celebrations this year follow the declaration of the defeat of Daesh in Iraq. The terrorist group had killed and displaced Christians in the north of the country following its sweeping territorial gains in June 2014.
Some cites such as Ramadi, capital of the Sunni-majority Anbar province in western Iraq, is celebrating Christmas for the first time since 2003, locals told Arab News.
“The security situation this year is the most stable in a long time, thank God,” Ara Badalian, pastor of the Evangelical Baptist Church in Baghdad, told Arab News.
“We’re more relaxed and free to practice our ritual ceremonies this time compared to previous years, and we’ve extended our celebration hours to 10 p.m. instead of 8 p.m.,” he said.
“The number of festivals we’ve planned is the most in many years, and participation is much wider and not limited to Christians, as our friends from other sects are keen to participate in our celebrations.”
Baghdad and other cities have witnessed a significant drop in the number of terrorist attacks in the past three years.
The number of casualties across the country in November was the lowest in six years, according to statistics from the UN Mission in Iraq.
Troops have been deployed near churches, malls and main squares to guard against potential terrorist attacks.
After Christmas, Iraqis see in the new year with street celebrations accompanied by music and fireworks.
Many clubs, cafes and malls hold free parties with famous singers throughout the last week of December.
“It’s an occasion to see all my family members to celebrate New Year’s Eve and enjoy time with them,” Rawaa Abdulridha, a young lawyer, told Arab News.
“We’re hungry for joy. We’re exhausted because war and death have dominated our streets for many years, so the time has come for some joy.”


US reaches ceasefire deal with Turkey in northern Syria

Updated 29 min 54 sec ago

US reaches ceasefire deal with Turkey in northern Syria

  • Truce announced by Vice President Mike Pence after talks in Ankara with Turkey’s President Erdogan
  • Turkey will control strip of Syria more than 30km deep after YPG withdrawal

ANKARA: Turkey agreed on Thursday to pause its offensive in Syria for five days to let Kurdish forces withdraw from a “safe zone” Ankara had sought to capture, in a deal hailed by Washington but which Turkish leaders cast as a complete victory.
The truce was announced by US Vice President Mike Pence after talks in Ankara with Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan, and was swiftly hailed by President Donald Trump, who said it would save “millions of lives.”

 


But if implemented it would achieve all the main objectives Turkey announced when it launched the assault eight days ago: control of a strip of Syria more than 30 kilometers deep, with the Kurdish YPG militia, formerly close US allies, obliged to pull out.
“The safe zone will be primarily enforced by the Turkish Armed Forces,” a joint US-Turkish statement released after the talks said.
A Turkish official told Reuters Ankara got “exactly what we wanted” from the talks with the United States. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu described it as a pause, solely to allow the Kurdish fighters to withdraw.

 

Kurdish fighters would be forced to give up their heavy weapons and their positions would be destroyed, Cavusoglu said. He declined to call the agreement a “cease-fire,” saying cease-fires could be agreed only by legitimate sides, and not by the Kurds that Turkey considers terrorists.
Pence said Washington had already been in contact with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which had agreed to withdraw and were already pulling out.
Trump tweeted: “Great news out of Turkey.”
“Thank you to Erdogan,” Trump said. “Millions of lives will be saved!“
“Today the United States and Turkey have agreed to a cease-fire in Syria,” Pence told a news conference after more than four hours of talks at the presidential palace in Ankara.
“The Turkish side will pause Operation Peace Spring in order to allow for the withdrawal of YPG forces from the safe zone for 120 hours,” Pence said. “All military operations under Operation Peace Spring will be paused, and Operation Peace Spring will be halted entirely on completion of the withdrawal.”
The deal struck with Erdogan also provided for Turkey not to engage in military operations in the flashpoint Syrian border town of Kobani, Pence said. Cavusoglu said Turkey had given no commitments about Kobani.
Pence added that he had spoken to Trump after the talks and that Trump had expressed his gratitude for the cease-fire accord. Washington’s main goal had been to halt the violence, and it had succeeded, Pence said.
The Turkish assault has created a new humanitarian crisis in Syria with 200,000 civilians taking flight, a security alert over thousands of Daesh fighters abandoned in Kurdish jails, and a political maelstrom at home for Trump.
Trump has been accused of abandoning Kurdish-led fighters, Washington’s main partners in the battle to dismantle Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate in Syria, by withdrawing troops from the border as Ankara launched its offensive on Oct. 9.
Trump had defended his move on Wednesday as “strategically brilliant.” He said he thought Pence and Erdogan would have a successful meeting, but warned of sanctions and tariffs that “will be devastating to Turkey’s economy” otherwise.