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Mosul celebrates its first Christmas since IS defeat

Christian families have started returning to Mosul following the defeat of IS [AFP]

Date of publication: 25 December, 2017

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For the first time in four years, Christians in Mosul celebrate their first Christmas in the city once ravaged by the Islamic State group.

Hymns and cries of joy filled a church in Iraq's second city Mosul on Sunday as worshippers celebrated Christmas there for the first time in four years after the end of Islamic State group rule.

Mass opened with the Iraqi national anthem as women ululated, despite the modest decorations inside the church and the armoured cars and police outside.

Like tens of thousands of other Christians, Abud fled in 2014 as the IS group seized the northern city and swathes of the surrounding Nineveh province, ordering the minority to convert, pay taxes, leave or die.

Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako of Iraq's Chaldean Catholic Church called on the congregation to pray for "peace and stability in Mosul, Iraq and the world".

"With this mass, we're sending a message of peace and love, because Christ is the messenger of peace," he told AFP.

On Christmas Eve at Saint Paul's church, Muslims stood with Christian worshippers and local officials amid candles and Christmas trees.

Outside, the portrait of a Christian killed under IS rule was displayed as a reminder of the city's grim recent past.

Iraqi forces expelled the jihadist group from Mosul in July after months of ferocious fighting.

That was part of a string of defeats which have decimated an organisation that once ruled over millions of people across large parts of Syria and nearly a third of Iraq.

White sheets hung over the church's window frames, blasted empty during the battle.

Sunday's church service in eastern Mosul was "an immense joy", she said, smiling broadly as seasonal hymns played in the background.

Saint Paul's is currently the only functioning church in Mosul, and is only open thanks to the clean-up efforts of young volunteers.

The 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq had by 2014 pushed some 90 percent of Mosul's Christian population to flee, leaving only 2,000 families when it was captured by IS, officials and activists say.

Between 70 and 80 Christian families have so far returned "and more are expected to follow soon", according to Dourid Tobia, an advisor on Christian affairs to the provincial governor.

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