Driving in to Baghdad from its fortress airport a few weeks ago, I was greeted by innumerable Santa Clauses and, ironically in this desert land, by forests of plastic Christmas trees. Sometimes my Dominican brethren gather with Shia Muslim friends around the trees and together remember the birth of Christ. For most people in Iraq, however, the image of Santa with his snowy white beard and red coat does not evoke the charitable bishop saint from the Middle East, St Nicholas. It is simply a tantalising symbol of the Western consumerism from which most people in this oil-rich but poor country are excluded.
I had come with Brian Pierce, a Texan Dominican, at the invitation of the Iraqi Dominican Sisters of St Catherine.