Christianity in Iraq might disappear

A new report warns that “without immediate concerted action,” Christianity in Iraq might be close to eradication in four years’ time.

There are just over 100,000 Christians left in the former ISIS-occupied areas of the Nineveh Plains and if nothing is done, this could dwindle down to 23,000 by 2024, warns the report “Life after ISIS – New challenges to Christianity in Iraq by the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). “This would move the Christian community from the category of “vulnerable” to the critical category of “endangered with extinction”,” said the report.

According to the report, 36% of the Christians in the Nineveh Plains said they were considering emigration in the next five years. Political and security reasons were the main drivers. A large majority (87%) said they felt "unsafe or absolutely unsafe" and another 67% “believed it was likely or very likely that Islamic State or a similar group would return in the next five years”.

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“I think the extinction of Christians in Iraq is a real danger which we need to take seriously. There are, however, many reasons for their dwindling numbers”, said Henriette Kats, persecution analyst with Open Doors’ World Watch Research unit. “The general absence of safety as a result of Turkish attacks; but also pressure and threats from Iran-backed militias and IS cells; lack of a well-functioning juridical system; the economic situation; discrimination and exclusion -- all are factors that cause people to think about emigration. Family and friends living abroad could also form a 'pull factor' which could lower the barrier of emigration. Last but not least, many Iraqi Christians have lost the hope that the situation would get better,” she said.

Different challenges

The emigration of Christians from Iraq is not a new phenomenon or solely linked to the violence unleashed by Islamic State. Years of ongoing violence including the 2003 war followed by an insurgency, discrimination, and the lack of jobs caused more and more Iraqi Christians to emigrate; approximately 1 million since the 1990s. Today there remain an estimated 150,000 -200,000 in the whole of Iraq.

Any solution to help them stay in their country will have to address the different challenges they face, said the ACN report, identifying emigration, security and economic, religious discrimination, and continued construction needs as areas that need to be included.

The disappearance of Christians was a major risk, the new Bishop for the city of Zakho in northern Iraq, Bishop-elect Dawood Al Shabi, reported that “St. Thomas the Apostle founded this Church, which still has countless treasures of faith and culture. As a son of this Church, I feel this bitter feeling that it is dying and that it will be dead for good if we don’t do anything,” he said.

In recent weeks, the city of Zakho and surrounding areas have been under attack by Turkish forces, targeting fighters of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party who, it says, have been using the mountainous border area to launch attacks into Turkish territory. At least 80 families have been displaced and 10 churches closed because of the ongoing violence in the region.

Please pray

Through these difficult days, may the church in Iraq stay safe and feel protected. Pray for believers to find fellowship and strength when so many churches have been forced to close down.

Pray for protection for the internally displaced families in Zhakho and surrounding areas. May the Lord provide for their needs.

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