Iraqi Christians celebrated Christmas on Tuesday amid improved security, more than a year after the country declared victory over Islamic State militants.
In northeast Mosul, people attended a mass on Monday (December 24) at the Grand Immaculate Church, surrounded by blackened walls still tagged with Islamic State graffiti. Dozens of worshippers prayed and received communion, and then gathered around the traditional bonfire in the church’s courtyard.
The militants had ravaged Christian areas, looting and burning down homes and churches, stripping them of all valuable artefacts and smashing relics.
Faced with a choice to convert, pay a tax or die, many Christians in the Nineveh Plains, chose to flee. Most sought refuge in nearby towns and cities, but many sought permanent asylum abroad.
In Baghdad, at the St. George Chaldean Church, Christians turned out in force to attend a mass on Tuesday (December 25).
Key Shiite and Sunni clerics were also present at the mass.
It was from a Mosul mosque that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a “caliphate” in 2014, spanning northern Iraq and eastern Syria.
The militants seized vast swaths of territory in north and west of Iraq in June 2014. But U.S-backed Iraqi forces recaptured the areas and declared final victory against ISIS in 2017.
Iraq’s Christian population has shrunk from 1.5 million to about 400,000 since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.