(Photo: AP Images / Karim Kadim)
Some churches in Iraq have canceled Christmas services to protect themselves against the threats of bombings on churches.
Just a day before Christmas Eve, a bomb planted near Church of St. Thomas in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul killed two men and wounded five others on Wednesday.
Earlier this month, a series of bombs left four people dead in Mosul.
"I’m very sad that we are not able to have our rituals for Christmas this year and not have a sermon, but we do not want any Christians to be harmed," Edward Poles, a Christian priest at Sa’a Church in Mosul, which was bombed last week, told The New York Times.
While Christians in the United States prepare to gather in churches and homes to celebrate Christmas, believers in more religiously restrictive countries face more intense persecution during the holiday season.
The Iraqi government has stepped up security near churches and Christian neighborhoods, following warnings by Iraqi defense officials who said intelligence reports pointed to attacks during Christmas, as reported by The Associated Press.
Since the U.S.-led Iraq war in 2003, more than 200 Christians have been killed, dozens of churches have been bombed, and more than half the Iraqi Christian population have left the country. Last year, more than 15,000 Iraqi Christians were reportedly driven out of Mosul after 40 local Iraqi Christians were killed.
Human rights groups such as Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom have criticized the Iraqi government for not doing enough to protect the country’s Christian minority.
Soldiers and police officers have been positioned around churches in Baghdad, Mosul and Kirkuk this week. Some churches will open only Christmas morning, others have moved their services to another town, and still others have canceled worship altogether.
"My children are upset because they have been waiting for this Christmas for a year now, but my wife and my father understand what is going on around them," Naeil Victor, 58, told The New York Times.
In the latest blast, the bomb was placed in a handcart, used to carry flour, near Church of St. Thomas. The two victims of the blast were Muslims, according to AP. The blast also damaged the more than 1,200-year-old church, forcing services to be moved to another location.