There are about 166,000 Christians in Iraq – a tiny percentage of the 42.6 million people living in Iraq.
What does persecution look like in Iraq?
Iraq remains plagued by conflict, despite the recent territorial losses of so-called Islamic State (IS), and this continues to gravely affect the country’s minority Christian population. In June 2020, Christian villages were bombed in Turkey's largest operation in the area since 2015, forcing many Christians to flee. In May 2021, Christian villages were evacuated following Turkish bombing in the region. Christians were not protected by the local government.
Many Christians are also seriously affected by intolerance and persecution. This is perpetuated mostly by militant Islamic groups and non-Christian leaders. They also face discrimination from government authorities.
In central and southern Iraq, Christians often do not publicly display Christian symbols (such as crosses) as this can lead to harassment or discrimination at checkpoints, universities, workplaces and government buildings. Outspoken believers in the region have frequently become targets. Blasphemy laws can be used against Christians suspected of carrying out outreach among Muslims.
Christians from a Muslim background experience most pressure from their families. They often keep their faith a secret, as they risk being threatened by family members, clan leaders and their local community. Converts risk losing their inheritance rights and the right or means to marry.
Most Christians in Iraq live in the north of the country, in Kurdistan. Few Christians are left in Baghdad and Basra. The situation is particularly difficult for Christians in the south and center of the country. Christians have left most of the provinces there, with the exception of small groups of converts from a Muslim background.
Matti’s ID card states he's a Muslim despite growing up as a Christian:
"One day when I die, I will die as a Christian."Matti
What has changed compared to last year?
Persecution levels in Iraq have largely remained the same. However, encouragingly, in the last year there has been a substantial drop in reported incidents of violence.
Also, Iraqi politicians have passed a bill to make Christmas Day a national holiday, and a committee has been set up to enable Christians displaced by the IS insurgency to return to their homes (more than 80% have fled the country since 2003). However, many Christians are reluctant to return home, as they do not yet feel the environment is conducive for a safe and prosperous return.
Open Doors works through local partners to support the church in Iraq with biblical training, trauma care, Bible distribution, socio-economic development projects, relief aid, and help to rebuild houses and churches in northern Iraq.
How can you pray for Iraq?
- Pray for peace and stability so that displaced Christians can return to their homes.
- Pray that the new Iraqi government will protect the rights of Christians and other religious minorities.
- Pray for the protection of all believers. Pray that each one will be strengthened and encouraged in their faith.
Dear Father, thank You that there is good news for our brothers and sisters in Iraq. We pray for more in the coming year. Stir the government into doing more to enable a safe and prosperous return for displaced Christians. May all those suffering today know Your nearness; may it bring them healing, comfort and hope. Bring permanent peace to this nation that has been riddled by conflict for years. Restore the years the locusts have eaten (Joel 2:25). Amen.