Christmas officially a national holiday in Iraq

The Iraqi Cabinet has made Christmas Day, Dec. 25, a national holiday across its entire country, the Iraqi government announced on Tuesday.

Christians have a history of persecution in Iraq by the Islamic State, but now celebrate the holiday openly.

“Happy Christmas to our Christian citizens, all Iraqis and to all who are celebrating around the world,” the government said in a tweet Monday.

“We extend our warmest wishes to Christians in Iraq and around the world for a very happy and peaceful Christmas,” it added in a tweet Tuesday.

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Reuters reported from Baghdad on Tuesday that Iraqi Christians quietly celebrated the holiday amid improved security a little more than a year the government declared victory over ISIS in its country.

“Of course we can say the security situation is better than in previous years,” Reuters quoted Father Basilius, leader of a Baghdad where more than a hundred congregants attended Christmas mass, as saying.

“We enjoy security and stability mainly in Baghdad. In addition, Daesh was beaten,” he said, using an Arabic name for ISIS.

Prior to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, there were about 1.5 million Christians in the country. That number shrunk to about 400,000 after that.

ISIS’ violence further shrunk that number as Christians were killed or fled, but it is unknown by how much.