Iraqi Christians celebrate Christmas one year after Daesh defeat

1 / 4
A man dressed in a Santa Claus outfit touring a popular neighborhood on the outskirts of the Iraqi central city of Najaf, takes children on a ride in a tuktuk on December 25, 2018. (AFP)
2 / 4
Iraqis attend Christmas Mass in Mar Youssif Chaldean Church, in Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2018. (AP)
3 / 4
Security forces stand guard before Christmas Mass outside Mar Youssif Chaldean Church in Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2018. (AP)
4 / 4
A man dressed in a Santa Claus outfit touring a popular neighbourhood on the outskirts of the Iraqi central city of Najaf, distributes small gifts to children on December 25, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 26 December 2018

Iraqi Christians celebrate Christmas one year after Daesh defeat

  • War and sectarian conflict shrank Iraq’s Christian population from 1.5 million to about 400,000 after the US-led invasion in 2003
  • Iraq is home to many different eastern rite churches, both Catholic and Orthodox

BAGHDAD: Iraqi Christians quietly celebrated Christmas on Tuesday amid improved security, more than a year after the country declared victory over Daesh militants who threatened to end their 2,000-year history in Iraq.
Christianity in Iraq dates back to the first century of the Christian era, when the apostles Thomas and Thaddeus are believed to have preached the Gospel on the fertile flood plains of the rivers Tigris and Euphrates.
Iraq is home to many different eastern rite churches, both Catholic and Orthodox, traditionally a sign of the country’s ethnic and religious diversity.
But war and sectarian conflict shrank Iraq’s Christian population from 1.5 million to about 400,000 after the US-led invasion in 2003. Following the onslaught of Daesh in 2014 and the brutal three-year war that followed their numbers have fallen further, though it is not known exactly by how much.
In Baghdad, Christians celebrated mass on Tuesday morning — declared a national holiday by government — in churches decorated for Christmas. Once fearful, they said they were now hopeful, since conditions had improved.
“Of course we can say the security situation is better than in previous years,” said Father Basilius, leader of the St. George Chaldean Church in Baghdad where more than a hundred congregants attended Christmas mass.
“We enjoy security and stability mainly in Baghdad. In addition, Daesh was beaten.”
Iraq declared victory over the militants more than a year ago, but the damage done to Christian enclaves on the Nineveh Plains has been extensive.
In Qaraqosh, a town also known as Hamdaniya which lies 15 km (10 miles) west of Mosul, the damage is still visible.
At the city’s Immaculate Church, which belongs to the Syrian Catholic denomination and has not yet been rebuilt since the militants set it on fire in 2014, Christians gathered for midnight mass on Monday, surrounded by blackened walls still tagged with Daesh graffiti.
Dozens of worshippers prayed and received communion, and then gathered around the traditional bonfire in the church’s courtyard.
Before the militant onslaught, Qaraqosh was the largest Christian settlement in Iraq, with a population of more than 50,000. But today only a few hundred families have returned.
Faced with a choice to convert, pay a tax or die, many Christians in the Nineveh Plains fled to nearby towns and cities and some eventually moved abroad.
Some have since returned, Father Butros said, adding: “We hope that all displaced families will return.”


Lebanese celebrities join Beirut protests as anger rises over tax reforms

Updated 19 October 2019

Lebanese celebrities join Beirut protests as anger rises over tax reforms

  • A video emerged on social media showing actress Nadine Al-Rassi preparing to set fire to a car tire in downtown Beirut
  • In a series of tweets, Lebanese recording artist Elissa, who is abroad, supported the protesters’ demands

BEIRUT: Lebanese celebrities joined thousands of protesters on the streets of Beirut on Saturday to voice their anger at the country’s ruling elite.
Singers, actors and playwrights were among a host of high-profile artists who backed demands for action over government corruption and to counter Lebanon’s spiralling economic crisis.
Beirut has been shrouded in smoke for three days following widespread protests and rioting over government tax plans.
A video emerged on social media showing actress Nadine Al-Rassi preparing to set fire to a car tire in downtown Beirut and crying inconsolably about her financial state.
The actress, wearing jeans and her face blackened, told protesters: “I am Nadine Al-Rassi. I was hungry for seven days. I have debts. Banque du Liban (Lebanon’s central bank) seized my house and I am unable to rent a home. Corrupt people should be held responsible.”


In a series of tweets, Lebanese recording artist Elissa, who is abroad, supported the protesters’ demands, saying: “This is the first time I wish I were in Lebanon. My heart is with you.”
In another tweet, the high-profile singer, one of the Middle East’s best-selling performers, said: “I proudly follow the news of Beirut and its citizens ... who are demanding a decent life. It is time for people to get back their dignity.”
Meanwhile, singer and composer Ragheb Alama expressed his dismay at a Council of Ministers plan to impose a daily fee on WhatsApp calls.
“The people’s misfortunes are not funny. Why don’t you tax the polluted air people breathe? It is a great idea that brings money to your fathers’ treasury, too,” he wrote.
Alama accused the Parliament of responsibility for the country’s dire economy: “Why do deputies receive money, privileges and overheads, and what have they done? They covered up for looting and stealing for decades. They are responsible for destroying the economy and the country.”
Nancy Ajram, one of the Arab world’s most popular singers, wrote on Twitter: “My heart goes out to my country every moment and with every heartbeat. We are a people who deserves to live and it is our right to live with dignity. May God protect Lebanon.”
Singer and actress Haifa Wehbe tweeted: “There is nothing better than the Lebanese people when they stand in unity and under one slogan, without any political affiliation. We are all for our country.”
Comedian and prime-time TV host Hisham Haddad was among celebrities who joined protesters at Riad El-Solh Square, near the Prime Minister’s office, site of the biggest centralized demonstrations.
Actress Maguy Bou Ghosn, singer Moeen Shreif, actors Abdo Chahine, Badih Abou Chakra and Junaid Zeineldine, playwright Ziad Itani and musician Ziyad Sahhab also joined the protests.
Actor Wissam Hanna called on Twitter for protesters to close the Beirut Airport road to stop corrupt officials fleeing the country.
“I am all for closing down the airport road to stop thieves from fleeing. I am all for recovering stolen funds. Lebanon rises, revolts and it is time to hold them accountable,” he wrote.
Actress Gretta Aoun said: “We have to take to the streets. They must know the extent of our pain.”