The head of Iraq's official Sunni Endowment Authority has slammed remarks made by the country's grand mufti on the impermissibility of Muslims celebrating Christmas and New Year.
Grand Mufti Abdul-Mehdi al-Sumaidaie said in his controversial sermon that Muslims who participate in Christmas festivities "believe in the Christians' religious doctrine".
Abdul Latif al-Heymem, head of the Sunni Endowment, distanced his organisation from the mufti's controversial remarks.
"These statements do not represent the Iraqi Sunni Endowment Authority, which works towards establishing national unity," he said/
Heyman also emphasised the ancient roots of the country's Christian communities in Iraq "through their Chaldean-Assyrian ancestors."
"Such reckless and irrational statements take us back to the hatred, incitement, sedition and rejection of other religions. It does not represent the joint the co-existence among Iraqis of all doctrines, nationalities and sects - whether Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen," he added.
Heymem also drew parallels between Christmas and the Muslim celebration of the birth of Prophet Muhammad, which was commemorated last month.
"Christians don't prevent us from celebrating the Prophet Muhammad's birthday, so why should Christmas celebrations be forbidden?" he said.
Christianity is the second most followed religion in Iraq after Islam, followed by other religions such as Sabean, Yezidi, Baha'i and Zoroastrianism.
The rise of the Islamic State group and other Islamist militias from 2014 onwards contributed to the decline in numbers of Christians in Iraq, who have been emigrating since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.