ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – In celebration of Christmas and the one-year anniversary of the country’s defeat of the so-called Islamic State (IS), Iraq has again raised its largest Christmas tree in a theme park in the capital Baghdad.
The 26-meter tall (85 feet) Christmas tree, considered to be Iraq’s largest, was erected at the al-Zawra theme park in Baghdad.
Park official Qais Adnan told the Associated Press that the tree was built “to celebrate Iraq’s religious diversity,” especially after IS’ persecution of religious minorities, forcing thousands to flee their homes.
Rasha al-Taie, a resident in Baghdad, said the tree represents “love, peace, and solidarity” between Christians and Muslims.
The Christmas tree initiative began last December, upon Iraq declaring its “final victory” over IS, when an Iraqi businessman built the tree in a gesture of unity with Christians during their auspicious celebrations.
The businessman, Yassir Saad, told AP at the time that the tree was aimed at “joining our Christian brothers in their holiday celebrations and helping Iraqis forget their anguish.”
IS’ blitzkrieg of central and southern parts of Iraq displaced many people, especially Christians who sought refuge in the Kurdistan Region which is known for its religious diversity.
Up to today, the Kurdistan Region continues to provide a haven for over 1.8 million displaced Iraqis from different faiths.
Louis Raphael Sako, Head of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Baghdad, told AP that Christians continue to experience marginalization in Iraq despite IS’ defeat.
“Their rights have been violated, many of their homes and properties were invaded and taken away from them. They have been sidelined for jobs as well,” Sako said.
A majority of displaced persons, including Christians, refuse to return to their homes because of a lack of security and basic services in their liberated areas.