A special Christmas in Baghdad

Awesome story via CBS/AP:

(CBS/AP) Thousands of Iraqi Christians picked their way through checkpoints and along dusty streets lined with concrete blast walls, crowding into churches in Baghdad on Tuesday for Christmas Mass.

Death is never far in Iraq — two separate suicide attacks, including one apparently targeting workers in a northern oil hub, killed at least 34 people on Tuesday, shattering more than a week of relative calm, local and U.S. military authorities said.

A suicide truck bomb exploded outside a residential complex belonging to a state-run oil company in Beiji, home to Iraq’s largest refinery, killing 25 people and wounding 80, police and hospital officials said.

In Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, 10 people were killed and five people were wounded in a suicide bombing, the U.S. military said. Baqouba police said Dr. Ahmed Fuad of Baqouba hospital put the death toll at nine.

Local officials said a bomber wearing an explosives vest targeted a funeral procession for two members of an Awakening Council group – fighters who have turned against al Qaeda in Iraq – who were accidentally killed by U.S. troops during a dawn raid.

In Beiji, the bomber detonated his explosives-rigged pickup truck when Iraqi police and members of the volunteer security force prevented him from entering the gate of a compound belonging to the state-run North Oil Company, a police officer said.

Beiji’s police chief was fired, said Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry. Authorities imposed a curfew on the city, about 155 miles north of Baghdad, until further notice.

Iraq’s oil industry and those who work in it have come under repeated attack since the U.S.-led 2003 invasion, usually through bombings of key pipelines. Revenue from the oil industry is seen as key to funding Iraq’s reconstruction and sparking economic recovery.

But the number of attacks in Iraq in general has fallen dramatically in the past few months – the U.S. military says by 60 percent since June – and the country’s small Christian community took advantage of the lower violence to turn out in numbers unthinkable a year ago.

“We did not celebrate last year, but this year we have security and we feel better,” said Rasha Ghaban, one of many women at the small Church of the Holy Family in Karradah, a mainly Shiite district in downtown Baghdad where many Christians live. “We hope our future will be better, God willing.”

Families streamed into the church’s courtyard, wrapped in heavy winter jackets to protect them from the early morning chill. Young children with neatly combed hair held their parents’ hand, and women stopped by the front door to pick through a basket of small lacy headscarves, placing them over their hair before walking in.

The pews were almost full – women toward the back and on the right side of the church, the men on the left – and still more people streamed in. Outside, police armed with automatic rifles manned a checkpoint at the corner of the narrow street, searching every passing car for possible bombs.

Iraqi Christians able to celebrate Christmas in Baghdad, brought to you courtesy of US troops, and coalition forces – including Iraqi troops. Fantastic job, guys.

Caption: Iraqi Christians attend Christmas Mass in
Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2007.
(Photo: AP Photo/Khalid Tanveer)

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