The Iraqi government has declared Christmas Day a national holiday across the country “on the occasion of the birth of Jesus Christ.”

December 25 will now be a holiday for residents of the predominantly Muslim country, not just the Christians as it had been for decades.

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

The government said in a tweet Tuesday:

 

Before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, there were an estimated 1.5 million Christians in Iraq. The number has fallen to about 300,000, with many being killed or forced to flee after coming under attack by various armed groups, including Islamic State, over the years.

Iraq declared victory over ISIS last year, but the effects of the fighting are still visible.

Iraqis attend Christmas Mass at Mar Youssif Chaldean Church, in Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2018. Although the number of Christians has dropped in Iraq, Christmas, a national holiday, is very popular in the capital. (AP Photo/Ali Abdul Hassan)

Iraqis attend Christmas Mass at Mar Youssif Chaldean Church, in Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2018. Although the number of Christians has dropped in Iraq, Christmas, a national holiday, is very popular in the capital. (AP Photo/Ali Abdul Hassan)

In Baghdad, more than one hundred congregants attended Christmas mass at St. George Chaldean Church, led by Father Basilius.

"Of course we can say the security situation is better than in previous years," he told Reuters. "We enjoy security and stability mainly in Baghdad. In addition, Daesh [the Arabic acronym for ISIS] was beaten."

Iraqis shop for Christmas decorations in Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, Dec. 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Ali Abdul Hassan) Iraqis shop for Christmas decorations in Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, Dec. 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Ali Abdul Hassan)

In an acknowledgment of the improved security situation, Pope Francis has dispatched his trusted secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, to Iraq to celebrate the Christmas season.

Parolin met Monday in Baghdad with Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi and celebrated a Christmas Vigil Mass at the Chaldean Cathedral of Saint Joseph in Baghdad's Karrada district, which has a significant Christian community. He is scheduled in the coming days to travel to northern Iraq to meet with Kurdish leaders in Irbil and to celebrate Mass in Qaraqosh in the Nineveh plains, near Mosul, according to the Vatican.

Source: VOA & Fox News