Iraq Stands Together in Symbol of Hope
By Claire Evans
11/01/2019 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – The streets in Iraq are flooded with people. Rockets flare overhead as bullets fly into the crowd. People quickly scatter, only to return in stronger numbers. After a month of protests, momentum continues to build. Iraqis want their rights. They want an end to political corruption. They want infrastructure. They want the hope of a good life. And they are willing to stand against any entity that taints this possibility.
“Iraqi civilians are fighting Turkey, Iran, Kurds, and the government to get their rights; it’s crazy,” said one Baghdad Christian named Rami. “It’s crazy to fight all of these without an army. You can’t imagine how the protests bring hope back to Christians.”
Hope? Pictures of Christian protesters don’t look hopeful. Bandanas hide many of their faces. Iraqi flags wrap around their shoulders as they hold pictures of Jesus, Mary, the cross. In the background, scenes of chaos reign. It looks like a violent war as the government indiscriminately fires upon the weaponless civilians. Where can one find hope among the wounded and killed?
But it exists. For the first time since the 2003 war, Iraqis have found something that feels like genuine togetherness. “The situation in Iraq has been under the parties’ control since 2003,” continued Rami. “Christians have lived in Iraq for thousands of years and been persecuted due to sectarianism.”
But now, sectarian differences don’t matter. Christians are just as welcome to stand for their rights as their Muslim neighbors. If one is injured in the protests, someone will come to help. The country is united in one voice asking for positive change.
“Christians have to participate and contribute to those protesting for their rights,” advised one priest serving in Baghdad. “Even most of the Christians are not part of any parties, and they don’t have political support. But they should be part of building the community; this is our mentality as Christians. The (governmental) power is preventing justice, and we need to get rid of it to sustain and maintain Christianity’s existence in Baghdad.”
The government’s violence toward the protesters has shocked many Iraqis. With so many competing voices, domestic and international, directly influencing the country’s government, it is hard to know where exactly to place the blame for the country’s many problems. But the government’s oddly unified aggression toward protesters strikes a nerve.
“The government should treat the protesters with peace. The Iraqi Army, the Popular Mobilization Forces (Iranian-backed militias), all of them are part of the community. They are supposed to protect the community!” worried one Christian leader.
Protesting, however, is more than just a risk. It is a sacrifice combined with a cry of hope for a better tomorrow. Yousif Benjamin is a Christian taxi driver living in Baghdad. For him, the cost of protesting is deeply impactful on his family. “As a taxi driver, the demonstrations are impacting my income very negatively. Any protesting leads the government to block the roads or even (put) a curfew. I gain my daily living through this taxi.”
“(But) as a Christian, I hope this government is replaced and I can get a better job to support my family,” added Yousif.
The cost of protesting is high even for the nation’s children. Youth are a strong demographic of the protesters, as they ask for a future that looks better than their parents’ past. But protesting means that they are not in school or university, thus missing the beginning of the school term.
“We are so sad because of what is happening in every demonstration,” said a teacher at a Syrian Orthodox school in Baghdad. “It is preventing students from coming to school. The political situation is a mind challenge for the kids. They can’t feel secure and that is taking most of their creativity.”
Together, Iraq is demanding change. Whether the government eventually responds positively, that sense of togetherness is hope in itself for Christians. As one priest said, “We pray and hope [for] peace for everyone.”