Christians in Iraq Suffer Muted Christmas Celebrations

Christians across Iraq celebrated a quiet and humble Christmas this year, as violence gripped the country as much as ever.

|PIC1|One of Iraq's 800,000 Christians, Umm Salam, a 56-year-old widow gave a description of her festive season to AP, saying: "It is very risky to go the church in our neighbourhood, so we will have a party at home and some of our relatives will come to celebrate. They'll have to stay the night at our home due to the security situation and the curfew."

Salam's Christmas Church Service, like many across the war-torn country, was cancelled.

The violence in Iraq has been centred around Sunni and Shiite Muslims, although the Christian community, which makes up approximately 3 per cent of the total population, has also been targeted.

In particular, attacks against churches, and church leaders have been more prominent since extremist Muslims were outraged by Roman Catholic Head, Pope Benedict's comments on the Prophet Muhammad in September.

The world was shocked when news arose in October that one priest was kidnapped by Muslim militants, who demanded that he retract the pope's comments. He was later found beheaded.

Salam explained that she has to hide her Christian name, as she fears she will be targeted if people find out her real name.

She told AP: "We cannot show our happiness (about Christmas) to neighbours. But every single Iraqi has his own wounds, and life must go on."

The UN has stated that according to its estimates, more than a million Iraqis have deserted the country since the war in 2003, and also comment that they believe about 3,000 are leaving each day. Approximately 40 per cent of those who have left are Christian.