What does persecution look like in Iraq?
Iraqi Christians experience discrimination, harassment and violent persecution, without protection from the state. Huge numbers of Christians were driven out of their towns and villages in 2014 when so-called Islamic State (IS) attempted to establish an Islamic caliphate in the north, and many have yet to return home.
Iraq is home to a number of traditional Orthodox and Catholic churches, but all are seriously affected by intolerance, discrimination and persecution from local leaders, government authorities and Islamic extremist groups. In central and southern Iraq, many Christians choose not to display their faith in public to avoid harassment or discrimination at work, university or when trying to cross checkpoints. In the Nineveh Plains region, church leaders have been kidnapped in the past; those speaking out against local militias or political leaders are particularly at risk.
Believers from Muslim backgrounds experience intense pressure from their families, clan leaders and communities, which can lead to being expelled from the family, losing the means to get married, or being forcibly divorced and losing their inheritance and access to their children. They may be arrested and prosecuted under blasphemy laws, if they are accused of trying to convert Muslims. It's not surprising that some choose to keep their new faith a secret.
Christians who convert from a Muslim background face the most persecution. This has traditionally been more prevalent in Arab areas than Kurdish areas, but the influence of conservative Islam is increasing throughout the country.
"We have an ancient Christianity here. Our presence in this country is important."Fadi, a church leader talking about displacement and emigration
What has changed this year?
Although Iraq fell four places on the World Watch List, the situation of the country's Christians has not improved significantly. There are fewer reports of violent incidents – such as churches being forcibly closed or attacked – but this does not mean that church services can continue undisturbed everywhere in the country. For example, in northern Iraq, church services have not been able to take place for over a year due to Turkish bombings.
In the past year, dozens of Christians were physically abused and/or forced to leave their homes, and many abducted Christians remain missing. One Christian was killed for faith-related reasons, and there were many reports of damage to, or confiscation of, the homes and businesses of Christians.
Open Doors local partners strengthen the church in Iraq with training, trauma care, Bibles and Christian books, livelihood projects and microloans, help to rebuild homes and churches, and crisis relief.
How can you pray for Iraq?
- Please pray for peace and stability to come to Iraq so Christians can return home
- Pray for an increase in understanding and cooperation between Christian denominations.
- Pray for God's protection and courage for new believers from Muslim backgrounds.
Heavenly Father, we pray for Your strength for our brothers and sisters in Iraq who are constantly treated as a shameful problem; may they always know their true worth and Your great love. Please protect their rights and stir the government into doing more to enable a safe return for those displaced by war. We pray You would hold back violent extremists, and we ask for permanent peace to come to Iraq at last. Amen.