Iraq was once home to one of the largest Christian communities in the Middle East; today, the church in Iraq is in danger of disappearing completely.


World Watch List Rank World Watch List Score
7 86/100
Leader Population
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi 38,654,000 (230,000 Christians)
Main Religion Government
Islam Parliamentary Democracy
Source of Persecution Persecution Level
Islamic Oppression Extreme Persecution

The self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) has forced thousands of Christians to flee their homes, although IS were driven back from some areas in 2016, and some Christians are beginning to consider returning. Even in areas of Iraq that aren't controlled by IS, Sharia is the basis of the law, and Muslims are forbidden from leaving Islam.


One day, Faiez was a government worker in Mosul. The next, he was on the run with his family, fleeing Islamic State (IS) extremists. The militant group had told them that they must pay a high tax or face the sword if they would not convert to Islam. As the family went through an IS checkpoint, everything was taken from them, including their 9-year-old son's pocket money.

"My son was crying and shouting the whole time," says Faiez. "He thought he would never see me again."

Iraq has been home to followers of God for thousands of years. Abraham was from the region we now call Iraq. Mosul is the current name for the city of Nineveh, described in the book of Jonah. In the 1990s, Iraq was home to 1.2 million Christians.

Now, just an estimated 250,000 Christians remain. Since the US-led invasion of Iraq, anti-Western (and by association anti-Christian) sentiments have grown, and Islamic extremism has been strengthened by the civil war in neighbouring Syria. This has led to IS declaring their 'caliphate' (Islamic state) in north-west Iraq and parts of Syria.There are few Christians lefts in IS-controlled parts of Iraq. IS has forbidden public gatherings that are not organised by them, and churches have been demolished or turned into jails, stables and Islamic centres. The punishment for breaking the strict laws enforced by IS range from cutting off hands to public executions.

Many Christians have fled to the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan. The church in Kurdistan has been reaching out to refugees fleeing IS; many provide refugees with shelter, food, medicines and other essentials. Father Daniel, who runs activities for children in a refugee camp in Erbil, says "I hope that these kids are going to have a new life without any wars, to live in peace."

However, even in areas of Iraq that aren't controlled by IS, society appears to be growing more Islamic, making life more difficult for Christians. Christian women in Baghdad and Basra have been forced to veil themselves in order to feel safe outside of their homes, and there has been a greater pressure for Christians to observe Ramadan.

Iran also exherts increasing influence within Iraq, and Muslim-background beleivers who live close to the border with Iran have reported being monitored by the Iranian secret service.


Open Doors has been working with local partners and churches in Iraq for over 20 years to support the church through:

  • Providing trauma training and biblical training for church leaders and Muslim-background believers
  • Crisis relief - Open Doors partners are currently providing around 15,000 families with relief aid
  • Socio-economic development projects such as microloans for displaced people
  • Distributing Bibles and Christian literature and supporting Kurdish translations
  • Structural aid such as funding church repairs/equipment.


Noeh: God gives me hope

12th Sep 2017

Found in Stories

"This is our land," says 12 year old Noeh, and he is waiting for the day to go back home

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  • Many Christians have been abducted, attacked or sexually assaulted by IS militants. Ask God to protect Christians from attacks, and to change the hearts of IS members
  • Open Doors local partners have been supporting thousands of displaced families - pray for wisdom for them to know how best to support those who wish to return to their villages if and when it is safe to do so
  • A few Christians live secretly in IS held areas - pray for their safety.


  • Pray for those that are suffering by reading the latest prayer requests from persecuted Christians around the world.
  • Advocate for persecuted Christians by signing the Hope for Middle East Petition.
  • Consider donating your resources to Open Doors.