There are about 175,000 Christians in Iraq – a tiny percentage of the 41.5 million people living in Iran.
Christians from a Muslim background often keep their faith secret, because of the pressure and threats they are likely to receive from extended family members, clan leaders and wider society. Christian converts risk losing inheritance rights or the right to marry – and they are not allowed to marry Christians, as the law still considers them Muslim.
Islamic extremists remain active in Iraq, attacking and kidnapping Christians. So-called Islamic State (IS) are notorious for their appalling use of women, particularly the sexual enslavement of women from religious minorities. While IS no longer have a stranglehold over the country, the legacy of their attitudes linger and many women are traumatised from their experiences.
The government also discriminates against Christians in various contexts, from the workplace to check points. Blasphemy laws can also be used against those who try to spread the gospel.
“In this crisis we are once again reminded how weak we are as human beings and how much we need the Lord’s salvation.”Father Anmar
After years of violence, an uncertain peace has come to Iraq – but 2020 saw recurrent violent protests and the instability in Iraq is a catalyst for the ongoing persecution of Christians.
This has only got worse during the Covid-19 pandemic. Iraqi Christians take great comfort from their places of worship and the sense of community they get there, gathering despite persecution. When these closed because of the pandemic, Iraqi Christians found it hard. “The believers are very sad; they want to come to church,” says Father Poulos, a priest in Bashiqa. “But for now, we have to tell them to stay at home and follow the prayers through the livestream on the internet.”
Discipleship and fellowship have gradually been moving online, including courses run by Open Doors partners, so that Christians can meet, learn and share despite restrictions.
Persecution faced in public and private life has not changed significantly, but the level of violence faced by Christians has increased sharply in the past year – which is largely the reason that Iraq has gone from no.15 to no.11 in the World Watch List. This is due to more reports of Christians being attacked or killed and churches being attacked.
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 Christians in Iraq through Bible distribution, discipleship training, emergency relief, microloans and livelihood projects to build self-reliance.
Father God, thank You for Your eternal and total love for all Iraqis. Please bring peace and stability to a country that has suffered cycles of violence for so long. Show Iraqi Christians the truth of their identity in You, and give them opportunities to share the good news of Jesus Christ with their families, communities and friends. Equip them to be the light of hope in their country. Amen.
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Together, we can reach those where persecution hits hardest.