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Christmas toned down for Iraqi Christians

Dec. 28, 2009 at 3:45 PM

BAGHDAD, Dec. 28 (UPI) -- The Christian minority community in Iraq emerged from the Christmas holiday weekend largely unscathed amid a tense religious season.

The major Christian religious holiday of Christmas coincided with a Shiite holiday that culminated Sunday with the Day of Ashura.

Several Christian churches and members of the minority religious community were the targets of bombings and assaults as Iraq prepared for the religious holiday. Many Iraqi Christians said it was the worst holiday season since before the U.S.-led invasion when they were not allowed to celebrate freely, Iraq's al-Sumaria news station reports.

Church leaders in the port city of Basra warned Iraqi Christians to tone down celebrations in the Shiite south of the country as pilgrims flocked to the region for Ashura.

Chaldean Patriarch Emmanuel III Cardinal Delly, however, said Christian mass and other religious ceremonies took place as usual.

Meanwhile, Kurdish leaders pledged to work toward religious tolerance in the north of Iraq, where most of the country's Christian population lives.

"We will continue to defend the rights of Christians and they are always welcome to the Kurdistan region," said Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government.

Christians suffered major setbacks following a series of targeted attacks in recent years. The United Nations estimates roughly half of the Christian population fled the country because of the violence.

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