Iraqis Crowd Churches for Christmas Mass

Iraqis Crowd Churches for Christmas Mass
Dec 25 01:36 PM US/Eastern
By ELENA BECATOROS
Associated Press Writer

BAGHDAD (AP) - Thousands of Iraqi Christians made their way to church through checkpoints and streets lined with blast walls, many drawing hope from a lull in violence to celebrate Christmas Mass in numbers unthinkable a year ago.

Death is never far in Iraq—two separate suicide bombings north of Baghdad killed at least 35 people and wounded scores more. But the number of attacks has fallen dramatically in the past few months—the U.S. military says by 60 percent since June.

"We did not celebrate last year, but this year we have security and we feel better," said Rasha Ghaban, one of many women at the small Church of the Holy Family in Karradah, a mainly Shiite district in downtown Baghdad where many Christians live. "We hope our future will be better, God willing."

Families streamed into the church's courtyard, wrapped in heavy winter jackets to protect them from the early morning chill. Young children with neatly combed hair held their parents' hands, and women stopped by the front door to pick through a basket of small lacy headscarves, placing them over their hair before walking in.

The pews were almost full—women toward the back and on the right side of the church, the men on the left—and still more people streamed in. Outside, police armed with automatic rifles manned a checkpoint at the corner of the narrow street, searching every passing car for possible bombs.

Christians have often been the target of attacks by Islamic extremists in Iraq, forcing tens of thousands to flee. Many of those who stayed were isolated in neighborhoods protected by barricades and checkpoints. Less than 3 percent of Iraq's 26 million people are Christians—the majority Chaldean-Assyrians and Armenians, with small numbers of Roman Catholics. [...]

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