Iraq is celebrate first Christmas close to Mosul after Daesh pushback

IRAQ: A few hundred Iraqi Christians flocked on Saturday to Bartella, anorthern town recently retaken from Daesh, to celebrate Christmas for the first time since 2013.

Bartella, once home to thousands of Assyrian Christians, emptied in August 2014 when it fell to Daesh’s blitz across large parts of Iraq and neighboring Syria.

Iraqi forces took it back in the first few days of the US-backed offensive thatstarted in October.

Daesh targeted all non-Sunni Muslim groups living under its rule, also inflictingharsh punishment on Sunnis who wouldn’t abide by its extreme interpretationof Islam.

The region’s Christians were given an ultimatum: pay a tax, convert to Islam, ordie by the sword.

The front line in the battle to retake Mosul Daesh’s last major stronghold inIraq, has moved a few kilometers to the west, into eastern districts where themilitants are dug in among civilians, fighting off the advance of elite Iraqi unitswith suicide car bombs, mortars and snipers.

More than one million people are estimated to live in areas of the city that remain under militant control, complicating the war plans of the Iraqi army and the US-led coalition providing air and ground support.

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