Attack fears cloud Christmas for Baghdad Christians

Fri Dec 24, 2010 3:53pm GMT

By Waleed Ibrahim

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Normally on Christmas Eve, Ban Zaki puts on festive clothes and takes her family to Baghdad's Our Lady of Salvation church for lively holiday celebrations.

Not this year.

Dressed in black and fighting back tears, she has brought her three children to the church to honour her late husband, who was killed along with 51 others when Iraqi forces stormed it after militants took hostages during Sunday mass on Oct 31.

"He died on this spot," 49-year-old Zaki said, pointing to the marble floor of the Catholic church.

"This year, there will be no festivities, no celebrations. The images of the attack and how they killed my husband here in this place are still in front of my eyes. Those were four hours I won't forget for the rest of my life," she said.

The attack triggered a fresh exodus of Christians from some Iraqi cities amid renewed fears that Sunni Islamist militants were trying to drive Christians out of their homeland.

The U.N. refugee agency said last week that some 1,000 Christian families, roughly 6,000 people, had fled to Iraqi Kurdistan from Baghdad, Mosul and other areas.

Iraq's Christians once numbered about 1.5 million. There are now believed to be about 850,000 out of a population estimated at 30 million.   Continued...

<p>Santa Claus toys are displayed for sale during Christmas eve along a street in Baghdad December 24, 2010. In its latest threat, the Islamic State of Iraq, the local affiliate of al Qaeda, said this week that Iraqi Christians risked further attacks unless they pressured the Christian church in Egypt to release a group of people it said the church was holding after they had converted to Islam. Fearing further bloodshed, several church leaders in Iraq have urged Christians to keep Christmas low-key and limit celebrations to prayers and mass. REUTERS/Mohammed Ameen</p>
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