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Prayers and Politics Play Out in Iraq

Sectarian violence in Iraq mostly involves mutual attacks by the country's Sunni and Shia Muslims. But Monday's Christmas holiday highlighted the plight of nearly one million Christians in Iraq. As VOA's Peter Fedynsky reports, the Christian holiday was accompanied by continued violence, as well as political debates in America about ways to end the Iraqi bloodshed.

Some Iraqi Christians celebrated Christmas at a church in the Karradah neighborhood in Baghdad. But their numbers were fewer this year due to deterioration of the overall security situation in Iraq, and persecution of Christians by Sunni and Shia militias.

Meanwhile, peaceful Christmas Eve preparations by British troops in the southern Iraqi city of Basra contrasted sharply with their mission on Christmas Day.

British forces demolished a police station in Basra based on intelligence that Iraqi officers were planning to execute detainees. Seven gunmen were killed. British officials say the operation was aimed at disbanding a unit at the station involved in murders, kidnappings and other crimes.

Half a world away, it was a working holiday weekend for President Bush. He met with his new Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, who reported on his recent trip to Iraq. The administration is considering a U.S. troop increase in Iraq, a suggestion that has sparked debate in Washington, D.C. Connecticut's opposition Democratic Senator, Christopher Dodd, just returned from Baghdad.

"I don't see any mission associated with this. It sounds to me like a tactic in search of a strategy here," said Dodd. "The strategy is not clear yet what needs to be done, and therefore, I think adding as many as 30,000 troops to the Baghdad area would be a mistake and cause us even more difficulty down the road."

But South Carolina's Republican Senator Lindsay Graham, who also visited Iraq recently, says democracy there is not possible, unless Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki can rein in the militias. "You're not going to have a political solution with this much violence. So the surge of troops is I think very necessary," said Graham. "Additional combat capability, co-joined with political reform, will be successful."

U.S. military commanders on the ground in Iraq have not called for a troop increase. While President Bush says he bases his decisions on the advice of those commanders, he is considering added troop strength. He is expected to announce his decision in the New Year.