"We used to celebrate this occasion by praying, and hundreds of believers would gather and wish each other well in the church lobby," said Father Boutros Haddad, the priest at the church in Baghdad's predominantly Christian neighborhood. "But we've stopped this because of the security situation."
Yet another somber Christmas is rolling by for Iraq's roughly 600,000 Christians, who enjoyed relative freedom under Saddam, but now live in fear of attacks from increasingly powerful Islamist groups and militias.
Since Saddam's downfall, churches have been bombed, Christian-run liquor stores attacked and many more in the small community killed or kidnapped. [...]
"I didn't see any of my regular customers this year because many of them left Iraq after the bombing of churches last year," said 43-year old Sajid Rasool Shakir, who has been selling Christmas trees in Baghdad every year for years.
At least 20 people were killed in attacks on churches in Baghdad and Mosul in the latter half of 2004.
Gone is all sense of joy. [...]
For the third year in a row, Baghdad's night-time curfew will make such celebrations impossible.
"We pray for peace in Iraq this year, but we do it out of duty and not joy," said Hikmat. "We are chained to sadness, we need peace more than ever."
So much for restoring religious liberty to Iraq.