Huge numbers of Christians fled Mosul and the Plains of Nineveh – the historic centre of Iraqi Christianity – following their conquest by Islamic State (IS – also known as ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) in 2014. In a three-year reign of terror against Christians and other minorities, IS seized Christian-owned properties, looted and destroyed churches, and subjected believers to sexual violence, forced conversions and enslavement. These acts constituted crimes against humanity and war crimes, a team of international investigators reported in December 2022.
Relatively few Christian families have returned to the region because of continuing concerns over the security situation. IS was officially declared defeated in Iraq in 2017, yet its cells continue to stage attacks in the country.
Those Christians who have ventured back are encouraged by the rebuilding of churches – sometimes with the help of Muslim volunteers – and hope their reopening will embolden more believers to return.
Christians face an uncertain future, however, because many of their homes were destroyed or fraudulently sold. In February 2022 more than 120 buildings and properties stolen from Christians and Sabeans (a religious minority indigenous to Iraq) were given back to their rightful owners. It followed a review carried out by the Committee for the Restitution of Christian and Sabean Property, set up in early 2021 by Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr who stated the initiative aimed to restore justice to his “Christian brothers”.
Huge numbers of Christians who fled IS took refuge in the autonomous Kurdistan region of northern Iraq. They are now facing displacement again following attacks by Iran against “dissident groups” in the area and by Turkish forces against Kurdish PKK fighters.
An estimated 75% of Iraq’s Christians (around 1.5 million in 1990) have left the country in the last 30 years, due to anti-Christian violence and hostility. It began after the 1990-91 Gulf War, intensified after the US-led invasion of 2003, and intensified further after the emergence of IS.
Pray that Christians will find peace in Iraq among the Muslim majority. Ask for protection for our brothers and sisters in northern Kurdistan.