By Maher Chmaytelli
BARTELLA, Iraq (Reuters) – Several hundred Iraqi Christians flocked on Saturday to a northern town recently retaken from Islamic State, celebrating Christmas for the first time since 2013, their joy tainted with sadness over the desecration of their church.
Once home to thousands of Assyrian Christians, Bartella emptied in August 2014 when it fell to Islamic State’s blitz across large parts of Iraq and neighboring Syria. Iraqi forces took it back in the first few days of the U.S.-backed offensive that started in October.
Women holding candles ululated as they went into the town’s Mar Shimoni church, expressing their joy at returning to the place where many of them said they had been baptized.
“This is the best day of my life. Sometimes I thought it would never come,” said Shurook Tawfiq, a 32-year-old housewife displaced to the nearby Kurdish city of Erbil.
The church was badly…
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