Baghdad (AsiaNews) - In a new and important step towards the Christian minority, the Iraqi government accepted a request by the Chaldean Patriarchate to recognise 25 December as an official day of celebration and a national holiday for all of the country's citizens. In Karrada, a neighbourhood on the eastern bank of the Tigris River where Christians, Shias and Sunnis live peacefully together, the authorities had already set up a five-metre Christmas tree.
As a show of "solidarity", the decision sends a signal meant to curb an exodus that has decimated the Christian community in the past ten years.
It comes after His Beatitude Mar Raphael Louis Sako I wrote a letter to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki last week, asking him to make 25 December a "day of rest for all Iraqis."
For the patriarch, such a recognition would be a way to acknowledge the value and importance of a community that has for centuries actively contributed to the development of the nation.
In his letter, the Chaldean Patriarch explained that "Jesus did not come just for Christians, but for everyone", stressing the "special respect" Muslims "have for Him."
In response, the Iraqi cabinet chaired by the Prime Minister al-Maliki took this "important decision" yesterday morning.
In Baghdad, local authorities also decked out some areas of the capital with Christmas lights and trees to "show their respect for and closeness to" the Christian community at this time of celebration.
After the US invasion in 2003, Islamic extremists targeted the Christian minority, killing hundreds of its members, including a bishop, priests, businessmen, doctors, and politicians.
Because of this, Christians in their thousands have fled the country over the past ten years, reducing the community from more than two million to less than 300,000.