Warnings of another Christian exodus from Iraq

A priest standing outside a church in northern Iraq.(Photo: Open Doors)

Christians are leaving Iraq in their droves because they cannot see any future in the country after years of political instability and persecution. 

Cardinal Louis Sako said in a statement on the website of the Chaldean Church in Iraq that a fresh exodus of Christians from the country is being driven by a “state of instability” and “lack of equity”. 

The patriarch of Iraq’s largest denomination said that the Christian minority has been suffering “painfully” from kidnapping and killing for ransom since 2003. 

Christians were also targeted in horrific attacks and displaced from their homes in Mosul and the Nineveh Plain by the Islamic State (ISIS), but even though Iraq formally declared ISIS defeated in 2017, the cardinal said that forced conversions by ISIS are still happening, as is the “Islamisation of minors”.

The cardinal also reported “attacks” on Christian jobs and the “seizure of their properties”. 

There were an estimated 800,000 Christians in Iraq before 2003 but today the figure is believed to stand at around only 153,000. 

Cardinal Sako said that a hundred Christian families had recently left Qaraqosh, in the Nineveh Plain, and that a similar exodus was occurring in other cities like Ankawa, in the Kurdistan region. 

The cardinal said people were leaving because of anxiety about the future and the government’s failure to pay salaries for months. He sees no action on the part of the government to support Christians. 

“The government is not serious about doing justice to Christians. They keep saying pretty words without action. More than a million Christians have emigrated, most of them were with qualified scientific, economic and skilled background,” he said. 

Open Doors’ Matthew Barns (name changed for security reasons), who works with the charity’s partners in Iraq, said that many Christian families “no longer see a future in their own country”. 

“After so many years of wars, persecution by extremists, and for some families being displaced multiple times, they just want to leave and build their future elsewhere,” he said. 

“The disaster with the fire in a wedding hall in September 2023 in the Christian town of Qaraqosh that killed over 130 Christians, that was an accident probably partly caused by lack of monitoring of security guidelines by the government. For many people in Qaraqosh the lack of government control is another confirmation that no one cares about the Christians.

“In the Nineveh Plain, the Shia Muslims are specifically feared by the Christian communities. They get the feeling that the Shia are gradually taking over properties once owned by Christians, causing an ethnic change. But all the bad things that happen to the Christian communities add to the feeling that there is no future for them in Iraq.”


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