Safety Fears Hang Over Celebrations in Iraq

BAGHDAD, Iraq, DEC. 22, 2005 ( Church leaders in Iraq are stepping up security amid fears of an attack on the faithful over Christmas.

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Guards are being deployed in churches and due to increased security risks after nightfall, Christmas Eve services are being held earlier in the day.

Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk, in northern Iraq, said he had issued a statement saying that for security reasons traditional Christmas celebrations were either being scrapped or in other cases scaled back.

“We have to be wise — we must take precautions,” he told the international charity Aid to the Church in Need. “There is always the possibility of an attack at this time of the year.”

Describing the security situation as “very fragile,” Archbishop Sako said there had been attacks on his community but that in most cases the faithful were at no greater risks than others and that they were not being targeted for their Christian faith.

However, he acknowledged that this position could change. The prelate said that Christian communities were anxiously awaiting the results of last Sunday’s general elections.

He warned of another exodus of Christians should the result be a victory for religious zealots wanting to turn Iraq into an Islamic state.

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