Thousands of Christians packed churches in Baghdad Tuesday, something they would not have been able to do a year ago. But north of Baghdad two bombs exploded, killing at least 33 people and wounding about 100 others. Although violence has declined recently in many parts of Iraq, including Baghdad, al-Qaida militants are continuing to intimidate people in some areas. VOA's Deborah Block reports from a U.S. army base south of Baghdad.
A suicide truck bombing in the northern Iraq city of Baiji killed Iraqi police and members of a U.S.-backed volunteer force who were manning a checkpoint. Baiji has the largest oil refinery in Iraq, and the blast took place outside a complex belonging to the state-run oil company.
Another suicide bomber blew himself up at a funeral in Baqouba. The funeral was for two members of a neighborhood militia that has been working with the U.S.
The U.S. military says coalition forces killed 13 terrorists over the past two days in operations against al-Qaida fighters in northern and central Iraq.
The U.S. army is making a big push south of Baghdad to eradicate al-Qaida in an area once known as the "Triangle of Death." Although it was Christmas, it was business as usual at the U.S. army forward operating base Kalsu in central Iraq.
Sergeant Timothy McDaniel was on a patrol that worked with local citizens to secure checkpoints to stop al-Qaida terrorists.
"Christmas has always been a happy time for me," he said. "I come from a really big family. Over here, it's just another day on the job. We always have to make sure that this area is safe."
A U.S. army artillery unit also continued shelling areas where extremists are believed to be operating.
Major William Johnson coordinates artillery fire. "The enemy is not going to take the day off today," he said. "In fact, today might even be the day they choose to do something because it is a holiday for us. Today is Christmas so we enjoy the holiday spirit, but there is still a job to be done."
Some of the soldiers who guard the base were given the day off. Major Matthew Hash, an information officer, is a higher-ranking soldier who volunteered to fill in.
"I really enjoyed letting the soldiers have some time off, being able to enjoy the meaning of today, and letting them just take a break," he said.
"And I was able to give back a little bit today on what they have been doing for us since we've been here," he added.