It was already late on Christmas Day, 2005, in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil, when my friend Luqman Khadir, an ethnic Kurd and non-practicing Muslim, passed along a surprising invitation. A fellow Kurd, one of Iraq's increasingly rare Christians, had asked Luqman whether I'd like to spend a few hours celebrating the holidays with him and his family.
It was a surprising invitation because that year, Iraqi Christians had been targeted in several high-profile attacks, including a bombing in Erbil, usually one of the safest cities in all of Iraq. Increasing ethnic and religious violence had driven Iraqi Christians into walled, heavily guarded compounds. Visitors, even Western reporters, were not welcome.
So I jumped at the chance to see a Christmas celebration firsthand. And I immediately agreed when Luqman laid out the ground rules for my visit: The Christian man and his sons would receive me, but his wife and daughters would not be present; I was welcome to spend a few hours with my host ...1