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News – Iraq’s Christians suffer

December 2007

Iraq’s Christians suffer

Christians in Iraq face severe persecution and dwindling numbers, according to reports from charity and aid organisations working in the region. As many as one million professing Christians are believed to have left Iraq since 1990, when they first began to experience difficulties because of their Christian faith during the first Gulf War.

Barnabas Fund, which works in the country, believes that the 2000-year-old church could face extinction because of ongoing conflict and civil unrest. Much of the country is still in chaos, especially in the central and southern regions.

Some Christians have tried to move to the calmer northern regions occupied by Kurds. However, here too there is renewed unrest because of border clashes between Kurdish separatist fighters and the Turkish Army.

The tiny Christian minority is also facing a campaign by religious extremists to drive them out of the country completely.

Christians now account for only around three per cent of Iraq’s population (around 600,000). However, they account for nearly half of all refugees fleeing the country, according to estimates by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Barnabas Fund believes that many of the refugees are struggling to find accommodation, food and other basic needs in the neighbouring countries where they have sought refuge, namely Syria and Jordan.

Iraqi politicians are aware of the problem and Iraq’s prime minister has vowed to protect and support the country’s rapidly diminishing Christian population. However, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom recently wrote in a letter: ‘While all Iraqis are threatened by violence, the non-Muslim minorities face particularised forms of harassment and abuse; what is more, these groups appear to suffer a degree of violent attacks and other human rights abuses disproportionate to their numbers’.

Nearly 2.2 million Iraqis – not only Christians – have left the country in the past four years.

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