- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 22, 2016

A Muslim businessman has reportedly erected an 85-foot-tall artificial Christmas tree in a Baghdad park as a show of solidarity with Christians.

Yassir Saad said the initiative aims to unite Muslims and Christians during the holiday season and help Iraqis “forget their anguish, especially the war in Mosul,” where Iraqi forces are fighting the Islamic State terror group, The Associated Press reported.

The $24,000 tree, with a diameter of 33 feet, was raised in the center of al-Zawra Park in the Iraqi capital. The AP described it as “the tallest Christmas tree in Baghdad.”

“This tree represents love and peace,” said teacher Saba Ismael, as her visiting students took pictures in front of the tree. “I wish all Iraqi Christians could return to Iraq and live normal and peaceful lives.”

The Christian community in Iraq has been on a steady decline since the U.S.-led invasion of 2003, the AP reported. Mosul and surrounding areas saw a rapid exodus of tens of thousands of Christians in 2008 and again in 2014 after the Islamic State seized control of the city. The very few Christians who might still remain in the city are being forced to convert to Islam or pay a jizya tax.

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