Iraq’s Vanishing Christians
ICC Note: The massive departure of Christians from Iraq has been a concern for church leaders and observers for the past few years. In the decade since the removal of Saddam Hussein the number of Christians has fallen by over a million. Estimates now place the number at just some 150,000-400,000 down from nearly two million. Louis Sako, patriarch of the Chaldean church, has issued numerous calls for Iraqi Christians to stay in the region and has been critical of Western countries that have facilitated the exodus of Iraqi Christians.
By Salah Nasrawi
05/12/2014 Iraq (Al-Ahram) – As the mass exodus of Iraq’s Christians continues, so does the call for ending the plight of those who have remained. Like Iraq’s ancient Jewish community before them, one of the world’s oldest Christian communities may soon cease to exist.
The disappearance of Iraq’s religious minorities has been a troubling trend since the US-led invasion in 2003, and it has threatened to end the cultural diversity of Iraq. As the violence in the country spikes and religious intolerance grows, many Christians, Yazidis, Mandaeans and other minority community members are leaving the country.
Last week, the head of the Iraqi Catholic Church sent a chilling warning that Iraq’s 2,000-year-old Christian community is on the brink of extinction as new waves of Christians take the journey of exodus.
The exodus is largely blamed on the worsening security since the US-led invasion that toppled former president Saddam Hussein’s regime. Christians have suffered abuses by Muslim extremists and militias, including brutal attacks, death threats and forcible seizure of property.
But Chaldean patriarch Louis Sako now believes that intervention by the West in the region has exacerbated the problem by producing more chaos and conflict in the war-ravaged country, and it is this that has been driving Christians to flee.
Iraq’s Christians of different denominations were estimated at two million, or some five per cent of the population, prior to the US-led invasion. Now that number is below 450,000.
Christianity in Iraq dates back to St. Thomas, who brought the faith to ancient Mesopotamia and the two main Iraqi denominations, Chaldean and Assyrian, still survive from that period.
Since he was ordained as patriarch of Babylon and the Chaldeans in February 2013, Sako has raised the alarm about the dramatic shrinking of the Christian population in one of its oldest homes.
Sako, whose election raised hopes of stemming the tide of Iraqi Christians fleeing the country, has described the exodus as a “disaster” and warned that the number of Christians in Iraq would dwindle to a few thousand in the coming 10 years.
But in his most scathing criticism of western governments to date last week, Sako said facilities provided by Western governments to allow Iraqi Christians to leave had aggravated the situation.
“1,400 years of Islam could not uproot us from our land and our churches, while the policies of the West [have] scattered us and distributed us all around the world,” declared Sako.