BAGHDAD – Trying to demonstrate just how much safer Baghdad is these days, Iraqi officials threw a party for Christians on Saturday, complete with huge posters of Jesus Christ.
A skinny Santa Claus draped in an Iraqi flag also made an appearance, waving and posing for photos.
Despite being slightly outnumbered by the huge security detail protecting the event, the crowd of Christians and Muslims called it a positive sign for the country.
“Such activities make me feel happy and joyful,” said Saba Tariq, 40, a Shiite who attended the “Master of the Spirit” celebration.
“It reminds me that we are rejecting the ideas of sectarianism. Before, it was getting to the point where we didn’t trust our neighbors.”
Amu Baba, a well-known Iraqi soccer coach and a Christian, said he wasn’t sure what to expect from the event. But when he arrived and saw the mixed crowd so openly celebrating different religions, he said, “This should prove to Christians who live abroad that they should return to their beloved country, which is Iraq.”
A spokesman for the Interior Ministry, which sponsored the event, told the Sharq al-Awsat newspaper that the main goal was “to take another step forward in improving the social relations among Iraqis, especially for our Christian brothers who share this homeland with us.”
The spokesman, Brig. Gen. Alaa Al-Taie, said more than 400 Christian families recently have returned to Dora, a neighborhood that had been plagued by violence against Christians.