Baghdad celebrates first public Christmas amid hope, memories
Even before I can ask Interior Ministry spokesman Major-General Abdul Karim Khalaf a question, he greets me with a big smile. "All Iraqis are Christian today!" he says.
Khalaf says sectarian and ethnic violence killed thousands of Iraqis. "Now that we have crossed that hurdle and destroyed the incubators of terrorism," he says, "and the security situation is good, we have to go back and strengthen community ties."
In spite of his claim, the spokesman is surrounded by heavy security. Yet this celebration shows that the security situation in Baghdad is improving.
Many of the people attending the Christmas celebration appear to be Muslims, with women wearing head scarves. Suad Mahmoud, holding her 16-month-old daughter, Sara, tells me she is indeed Muslim, but she's very happy to be here. "My mother's birthday also is this month, so we celebrate all occasions," she says, "especially in this lovely month of Christmas and New Year."