|World Watch List Rank||World Watch List Score|
|President Fuad Masum||39 million | 258,000 million Christians|
|WWL Rank in 2017||Persecution Level|
Fanatical movements such as the Islamic State group (IS) and other radical militants are known for targeting Christians and other religious minorities through kidnappings and killings. Although IS has almost completely lost its territory in Iraq, its ideology is not dead and has influenced the local population. The idea that Christians are infidels and ‘not clean’ has spread widely. Also, an estimated 3,000 IS militants from Mosul have reportedly ‘disappeared’ into the general population. Although some Christian families have returned to their homes, the emigration of Christians is continuing due to fear and lack of hope for a good future. For Christians in the north, the aftermath of the referendum on Kurdish independence has also played a role in this desire to leave. Further persecution occurs through Islamic leaders at any level, mostly in the form of hate speech in mosques. Government officials at all levels are reported to threaten Christians and ‘encourage’ them to emigrate. Clan leaders, extended family and ‘normal citizens’ put serious pressure on Christians with a Muslim background to get them to return to Islam, and sometimes include efforts to kill the convert. By failing to promote a pluralistic society political parties also contribute to the persecution of Christians. The kidnapping of Christians often comes in the form of organized crime, having both financial and religious motives. On a lower level of persecution, leaders of Historic churches have sometimes thwarted the official recognition of new Christian denominations.
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: