Iraq Protests Continue, But Where Is the Hope? | Persecution

Bandaging and building the persecuted Church since 1995

Iraq Protests Continue, But Where Is the Hope?

By Claire Evans

02/28/2020 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern)It seems like a lifetime ago. When Iraq’s protests first began 150 days ago, the country was filled with hope. Today, the protests continue, but the tenor is different. Some still hope for change, but many are filled with fear. The government—backed by Iran—has only grown harsher towards the protesters. The future looks uncertain.

For Iraq’s Christians, the suspension between these alternate realities is terrible. They had invested so heavily in the protests when the demonstrators first gathered. It was an experience unique to their lifetime: Iraqis united with one voice. They asked for religious freedom, peace, an end of sectarianism and corruption. Christians and Muslims flooded the streets, protecting each other from the government’s violent response.

One Baghdad Christian at the time observed, “Iraqi civilians are fighting Turkey, Iran, Kurds, and the government to get their rights; it’s crazy. It’s crazy to fight all of these without an army. You can’t imagine how the protests bring hope back to Christians.”

This past January, a single airstrike in Baghdad changed this atmosphere. An Iranian general died in Iraq. Protesters have paid the price as both governments reassert their authority. Christians once had hope in the demonstrations, but now, so many are afraid. They see how kidnappings and violence have increased towards protestors. Christians know that religious minorities will have far worse experiences if they are caught participating. Some accept the risk; others have retreated back into their homes.

“I participated in the demonstrations since the first day, both morally and financially,” says Kamal, a Baghdad Christian. “But after the militias attacked the area of the demonstrations many times, I stepped back. I am now only providing some funds to provide blankets and other needs for people sleeping in the streets, asking for a better life.”

Sarmad, another Baghdad Christian, further explains. “The critical situation has lasted very long without any response from the government. Demands are not achieved yet. We are not thinking of withdrawal, and we have Christians participating financially and morally. We as Iraqi people wish to elect and vote for the proper person who can maintain our rights because we wish to live peacefully.”

This desire is visible in the many signs carried by the protesters, several of whom are not happy with the February appointment of the new prime minister, Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi. His face is familiar within Iraq’s political system—the demonstrations only increased after his appointment. The protesters demand “having an independent prime minister who is not part of any political system after 2003,” explains Sarmad.

Allawi’s appointment has generated a new line of conversation among Iraq’s Christians. They support the protests because Christians want their rights. But as the government leadership changes, should Christians ask for a role in the government?

A former Christian member of parliament, Joseph Slewa, publically stated, “I have a suggestion for the assigned prime minister. I suggest for him choosing all his ministers far from Shia, Sunni, and Kurds to prove that he has a different mind. I also suggest choosing Christians, Yezidis, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Syriacs, and other minorities who didn’t have a chance in the previous government for 17 years. Arab Sunni, Shia, and Kurds only produce devastation.”

Still other Christians disagree. Ninos, an Assyrian Christian, explains, “I am against having a Christian prime minister because it will be based on sectarianism, (just) as the Shia and Sunni did over the past 17 years.”

Firas, another Baghdad Christian, agrees. “The demonstration was clear from the beginning; the demands were clear too. But the government and its parties drove the ship to nowhere, and tried to destruct the main goal of the demonstrations.”

“As a Christian, I dedicated myself to change in this country,” he adds. “Even (though) there is persecution toward anyone who goes to Tahir (to participate in the protests), I will continue protesting, and I will challenge until I die. I hope to have a secular government in the future.”

For Firas, there are still reasons to hope in the protests, even though the political situation has greatly increased his personal risk. Other Christians, however, see more opportunities for spiritual hope than any other kind. Explains one, “We are the image of God on the earth. I work on getting the stolen rights back. (I) support the demonstration financially and attend Tahir Square (protesters) sometimes, to support the spreading of the love of God there. Our demands are life with dignity, and to live peacefully.”

The decision to protest is one not taken lightly by Iraq’s Christians—the personal consequences could be deadly. Many agree that there is no right decision. But even for those who have chosen to provide moral and financial support from a distance, Iraq’s Christians continue to make one thing clear: the country is suspended between two realities. One promises hope, another darkness. Which path goes forward is yet to be discovered.

ICC is on a mission to help persecuted Christians. Will you join us?