The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Uncertain, sombre Easter in Baghdad

Baghdad, April 20 (Reuters): Iraqi Christians celebrated Easter under the shadow of uncertainty and sorrow, praying for an end to the chaos that has engulfed their lives since the US led an invasion to oust Saddam Hussein.

Sunday is the day Christians believe Jesus was resurrected. But in Baghdad’s churches — which, like the city’s mosques, have been spared the looting that has wrecked much of the capital — the mood was sombre and uncertain. Christians dressed in the best clothes they could find mourned dead relatives and prayed for a rebirth of Iraq.

“We are praying that God protects the people,” said Suhail Elias Kusto, 50, at the Lady of Our Salvation Catholic church. She said her 24-year-old nephew had been killed on the first day of the bombing of Baghdad last month. “We just want an end to killing. We have had enough,” she said, weeping. “Hasn’t there been enough fighting'”

US troops also attended Easter services at their camps and bases. Major Kelly Ward of the 2nd Cavalry said his unit, based on the outskirts of the Saddam City suburb, held three services — Catholic, Protestant and non-denominational. The same pattern was repeated at US bases across the city.

Iraq’s Christians enjoyed relative religious freedom under Saddam’s secular rule. Many of them worry that the collapse of Saddam’s government and the advent of democracy in a Muslim majority nation could affect their freedom to worship.

Some also fear a backlash from those who considered the Christian community too closely linked to Saddam. Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz was the top-ranking Christian under his rule. There are an estimated 700,000 Christians in the country of 26 million people of various sects — many, but not all, of which celebrate Easter on the same day as Rome.

A few hundred people attended the service in the Lady of our Salvation church. Ceiling fans kept them cool in the morning heat, as white-robed priests led the service.

“We are just praying that the situation stabilises. That is the most important thing for this country,” said 27-year-old mechanic Firas Showkal. “We don’t have electricity. We only have a little water. There are still no schools.”

Outside the Church of St Joseph, where Catholic priests in black robes and pink skullcaps led the celebration of Easter, two Iraqi Dominican nuns said what they wanted most of all was a return to some semblance of a normal life.

“My family are in America. My thoughts are with them and I want to hear their news. We don’t have telephones,” said Sister Marie-Yvette, 51. “We don’t have security.”

Sister Marta, a 40-year-old Iraqi who studied in Rome, said her prayers had been for a better Iraq.

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