In late October 2016, Christians were able to gather for communion in a church in Qaraqosh, near Mosul, for the first time since 2014 when Iraq’s then largest Christian town was taken by Islamic State (IS). Last year IS suffered a series of military defeats in the Nineveh Plains, the traditional Christian heartland of Iraq where Qaraqosh is located, but Christians in the country are still far from safe. Most who fled the advance of IS are still displaced and fear that they will face discrimination and violence if they return to what is left of their homes.
Since the Gulf War of 1990-91 and especially after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, Iraqi Christians have experienced increasing hostility, and, during the chaos after the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003 they were violently persecuted. Churches and Christian-owned businesses were attacked, believers were kidnapped and held for ransom or murdered. Many thousands fled the country. In 2014, when IS gained control of parts of Iraq, the situation for Christians became even more precarious. Although efforts to oust IS have been successful in many places, the recent history of persecution has left the Christian community in tatters; Iraq’s Christians now number only a few hundred thousand, having dwindled from 1.5 million.
The political situation in the country remains extremely uncertain. The Shia-dominated government is not held in high regard by many minority Sunnis, who enjoyed preferential treatment under Saddam. Last year, a Shia Muslim religious leader thanked Iraq’s Christians for promoting peaceful coexistence: despite having suffered greatly, he said, the Christians had never responded with violence.
Lift up in the prayer the thousands of Iraqi Christians who have been internally displaced, as well as the many of have been forced to flee the country and become refugees. Pray that they will know that they have a sure and certain hope (Hebrews 6:19). Pray especially for those who remain, facing an uncertain future, having experienced and witnessed terrible things; ask that God will provide for their needs and that they will be able to re-establish a Christian community without fear of persecution.