ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – As members of the Iraqi Christian community celebrated Christmas, the Council of Ministers agreed to make Dec. 25 an annual public holiday throughout the country.
This is the first time that the Iraqi government has announced the observance as a national holiday that includes all citizens after being limited only to Christians for decades. In doing so, the rest of the nation joins the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region that has long included Christmas in its public holidays.
A statement issued by the office of the Iraqi Prime Minister mentions that the cabinet decided to suspend official work on Dec. 25 and also voted to amend the official holiday law to include Christmas. It is expected to be approved by parliament, the last step in the process.
“The @IraqiGovt announces Christmas Day to be an official holiday across Iraq. Happy Christmas to our Christian citizens, all Iraqis, and to all who are celebrating around the world,” read a post on the official Twitter account of Iraqi federal government.
The Christian community in Iraq has, for decades, suffered persecution for their faith. In 2014, when the so-called Islamic State (IS) emerged in Iraq, tens of thousands of Christians were forced to flee their homes, with many seeking refuge in the Kurdistan Region. The jihadi group killed Christian civilians, forced some to convert to Islam, and destroyed or desecrated churches in cities like Mosul which it controlled.
In 2003, the number of Christians in Iraq was estimated to be about 1.5 million people, about six percent of the total population. Since then, displacement to Kurdistan or abroad has caused that number to plummet.
“Iraq cherishes its Christians as an indigenous component with the rest of the Iraqi people,” Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi said.
His remarks came during a meeting with Vatican Prime Minister Pietro Parolin, who landed in Baghdad on Monday.
“We look forward to the visit of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to Iraq for his message of humanity and coexistence between peoples and religions,” he said.
“We have militarily defeated Da’esh [Islamic State (IS) group] and continue to erase their terrorist ideology,” Abdul-Mahdi continued, adding that his government will continue to rebuild the country after years of war and will help those displaced to return to their homes.
“We support your efforts to meet the challenge of reconstruction and the achievement of peace,” the prime minister said, calling on Christians and Muslims to “sow the seeds of love, peace, and coexistence and diversity as a source of strength for all.”
According to the Iraqi Ministry of Migration and Displacement, a limited number of displaced Christians have returned to their homes in the Nineveh Plain, an ethnically and religiously diverse region that lies outside of Mosul.
Editing by John J. Catherine