Leaders of Iraq’s Christians unanimously cancelled Christmas-related celebrations in solidarity with the protest movement — but the aims of their stance go deeper than tinsel and fairy lights. Slogans of a united Iraq free of sectarianism resonate deeply within the community, which since the 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein has fearfully observed its diminishing influence amid growing Shiite-dominated politics shaping state affairs. The Christians have also left Iraq in huge numbers over the years, after being targeted by militant Sunni groups such as al-Qaida and the Islamic State group.
Falling demographics capture their existential anxieties, explained Sako. Christians numbered around 1.5 million before the U.S. invasion 16 years ago, roughly 6% of the population. Today the Christian population is believed to be less than a third of that figure, though accurate estimates are hard to come by given the lack of census data in Iraq.
Christmas decorations were forbidden within the fine interiors of Baghdad’s Chaldean Patriarchate.