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Vanishing faith: the exodus of Iraq’s Christians

After years of strife, by 2014 it was reported that 90% of the Orthodox Christians of Iraq had been displaced. Most of them are still refugees and have been unable to return home. Still others who remained are leaving now.

For previous coverage of the persecution of Christians in Iraq, click here.

“Vanishing faith: the exodus of Iraq’s Christians,” by Matthew Barns, Premier Christianity, March 13, 2024:

Amid growing intolerance and persecution, the Christian population in Iraq is declining rapidly. Urgent prayer is needed for this community, who have been present in the region for almost 2,000 years.

Over the last few months, hundreds of Christians have packed their possessions and left their homes in Iraq. This latest exodus adds to the hundreds of thousands of Christians who have abandoned their country in the past decades. It’s not something that any of them do lightly, but many feel they have no choice.

Although over 97 per cent of Iraq’s population are Muslim, there has been a Christian community there since the first century – widely believed to have been founded by the Apostle Thomas.

As recently as the 1990s, there were roughly 1.5 million Christians in Iraq. A combination of factors, including the rise of attacks and the brutal Islamic State (ISIS) have seen the number drop to an estimated 153,000. Since then, the question has repeatedly been asked: “Can Christianity survive in Iraq?”


Last month Cardinal Louis Sako, leader of the Chaldean Catholic Church, Iraq’s biggest denomination, sounded the alarm. He warned of “a new flow of migration” adding that in the last few months alone, some 100 families from the Christian town of Qaraqosh had left.

Why are they leaving? There are several possible answers but, chiefly, it is because Christians in Iraq feel that they are being squeezed out of public life – or to put it another way, they no longer feel they “count”.

Last week, hundreds of Christians took to the streets to protest a court ruling that declared the eleven seats reserved for minorities in the parliament of the Kurdistan Region (an autonomous region in northern Iraq) ‘unconstitutional’. Out of these eleven, six seats were designated for Christians. According to the protesters this will make it impossible for Christian candidates to hold a seat in the Kurdistan parliament.

Meanwhile, Iraq’s president, Abdul Latif Rashid, revoked a 2013 decree recognising Cardinal Sako as Patriarch of the Chaldean Church. Now, in the eyes of the government, Sako and his bishops have no position nor legitimate voice to speak up for the people they represent.


One can see why the Iraqi government might not want to offer legitimacy to someone like Cardinal Sako. He has been forthright in highlighting how minorities like Christians are being sidelined. As he explains that “attacks on Christians are still continuing on their skills, their jobs, the seizure of their properties.”

He also described “cases of forced conversion by ISIS or others, the Islamization of minors, failure to preserve their rights, an attempt to deliberately erase their heritage, history, religious legacy, expressions of hatred in some religious discourses as well as in education books.”

It is this steady ‘drip, drip drip’ of intolerance and marginalisation that sends the message: “You are no longer welcome” to a people that have lived in the region for nearly 2,000 years….

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