How many Christians are there in Iraq?
Iraq’s Christian population has dwindled considerably due to conflict and terrorism. More than 80 per cent have fled the country since 2003. An estimated 150,000 remain – just 0.4% of the country’s 42.6 million population.
How are Christians persecuted 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 often keep their faith a secret, as they risk facing pressure and persecution from family members, clan leaders and their local community. This even includes murder.
The difficulty Christian men can have making a livelihood because of their faith – together with the broader risks associated with being a believer – increases the likelihood of them emigrating. This loss not only affects their direct families, but also drains local churches of potential leaders.
In state schools, Christian girls are seen as weaker and are often ridiculed for their faith. They can face pressure to convert to Islam and their grades can be impacted if they openly challenge values which contradict their Christian faith. Some have reported experiencing sexual harassment because of the perception that Christian women are loose and free, because they attend parties and do not wear Islamic clothing.
“One day when I die, I will die as a Christian.” Matti, an Iraqi Christian
What’s life like for Christians in Iraq?
Imagine you cannot get married, have the education you want, or go to church – all because your ID card says you are Muslim, even though you're a Christian.
This is the situation facing Matti (name changed) from Iraq. He grew up in a Christian family, but when he went to get his ID card he discovered that, because his mother remarried to a Muslim man, his religion had changed to ‘Muslim’. “My world started to fall apart,” Matti recalls.
“The Christian cannot marry a Christian, because it’s written on his ID that he is a Muslim,” says Mr Youhanna, a lawyer helping challenge this law. “And even then, if he did get married to a Christian wife, she would become Muslim by law. Because she married a Muslim, their children would also become Muslim.
“This affects a person’s whole life. And this is why we see today that these people are totally broken because of this law.”
Is it getting easier to be a Christian in Iraq?
Despite dropping three places in the World Watch List, 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.
Meanwhile, 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. However, many Christians are reluctant to return home, as they do not yet feel the environment is conducive for a safe and prosperous return.
How can I help Christians in Iraq?
Please keep praying for your brothers and sisters in Iraq. Your gifts and prayers make an enormous difference to those following Jesus no matter the cost.
Open Doors works through local partners to support the church in Iraq with training, trauma care, Bibles and Christian books, livelihood projects, help to rebuild homes and churches, and crisis relief.
Heavenly 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.