Christmas in the Middle East
Al-Zaman reports that “The Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad appeared almost deserted on Christmas Eve. Christian celebrations of Christmas were limited to private homes. Iraqi Christians had announced last week that they would suspend official celebration, out of solidarity with the tragedy of the Iraqi people.” Iraqi Christians, who had enjoyed relative freedom under the regime of Saddam Hussein, now face fear of attacks by powerful Islamic groups or Shiite militias. Few are making any use of the Christmas lights and decorations of yesteryear. There were some 600,000 Iraqi Christians in a population of 27 million, but some say the number is now less than 450,000. Thousands have been forced to flee to Syria. The Archbishop of Canterbury has argued that the policies of the British and American governments in Iraq have endangered Middle Eastern Christians and that nothing is being done to protect them.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, in Bethlehem, sharply condemned the Israeli government for the Separation Wall it is building on Palestinian, West Bank land, which is having a deleterious effect on Bethlehem:
‘ “The wall which we walked through a little while ago is a sign not simply of a passing problem in the politics of one region; it is sign of some of the things that are most deeply wrong in the human heart itself,” Williams told his fellow church leaders, according to Britain’s Press Association. “We are here to say that security for one is security for all. For one to live under threat, whether of occupation, or of terror, is a problem for all, and a pain for all,” he was quoted as saying . . .
Bethlehem Mayor Victor Batarseh says the barrier separates residents of this town of 30,000 from jobs, studies, medical facilities and relatives in nearby Jerusalem. He told the visiting clergy the town had been “transformed into an open prison” by the barrier. “Your presence is challenging this ugly wall,” Batarseh was quoted as saying. ‘
All is calm,
It was announced on Christmas Eve that “Six soldiers were killed in bomb attacks in and
around Iraq’s capital Baghdad on Dec. 23, bringing this month’s death toll to at least 82, the U.S. military said in four statements e-mailed yesterday.”
all is bright
McClatchy reports that 29 bodies were found on Christmas Eve around Baghdad.
Two bombings in Baghdad wounded 8 civilians. A mortar attack on Zawra’ Soccer Stadium wounded 7 athletes.
Round yon virgin mother and Child.
McClatchy says that in Diyala Province, northeast of Baghdad, a suicide bomber wearing a police uniform detonated his payload inside the police HQ of Muqdadiya, killing 7 policemen and wounding 30 others. Two more policemen were killed at a club west of Baquba, Diyala’s capital.
Holy Infant, so tender and mild,
In the far-southern city of Samawa, clashes broke out again on Sunday between Mahdi Army militiamen and local police [the police corps is dominated by the rival Shiite Badr corps militia]. McClatchy says, “This morning clashes broke out again in semawa at about 9 o’clock between MAHDI army and Iraqi forces after one night truce between the Iraqi government and sadr office when the Iraqi government released some sadrist detainees. This morning clashes led to the deaths of 7 civilians and police; 19 others were wounded.” Four more persons were killed in similar clashes in nearby Rumetha.
The LA Times reports that the cleric leading a renegade faction of the Mahdi Army in Samawa, Shaikh Ghazi Zarqani, is not under the authority of Muqtada al-Sadr. Tribes have chosen up sides in Samawa between SCIRI and the Sadrists, and the major tribe is even internally divided. The local Sadrist offshoot is demanding the release of 30 of its men from prison. Al-Zaman says that the Mahdi Army in Samawa violated the ceasefire by attacking the government HQ, demanding the prisoner release.
Sleep in heavenly peace,
This Christmas, Lebanon is teetering on the brink of major instability, with Christians divided against Christians and a major fault line running between the March 14 Movement and Hizbullah. The Israeli attack on the country, during the last three days of which it released a million clusterbombs destined to kill civilians and children, appears to have put a nail in the coffin of the national unity government. Israel did not destroy Hizbullah or even seriously degrade its capabilities in the medium term, and Hizbullah was hugely strengthened in Lebanon and throughout the Muslim world. So the war was for nothing. The Daily Star reports that even Christmas has been politicized this year, in the small country of 3.8 million, about a third of whom are Christians.
Sleep in heavenly peace.
Iran will defy the United Nations Security Council and press ahead with its uranium enrichment program. The UNSC demanded that Iran clear up the unresolved question of whether it has a military nuclear weapons program in addition to its announced and fairly transparent civilian energy research program. The International Atomic Energy Agency has been unable to prove a weapons program but has been unable to rule one out, either. Iran is now threatening to withdraw from the IAEA. Iran does not yet have the capability to enrich uranium to the grade necessary to run nuclear energy plants. It would take many times that level of enrichment to make a bomb. The US National Intelligence Estimate is that Iran is 10 years away from that capacity even if it is trying hard and assuming the international atmosphere was permissive. The UNSC resolution is aimed at denying Iran the equipment necessary for a weapons program, assuming it has one.
The Bush administration, now hobbled in pressing for any further formal wars by a Democratic Congress, may take a leaf from Reagan’s playbook and engage in illegal, covert activities in Iran aimed at overthrowing the theocratic government.