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Cardinal warns of fresh Christian exodus from Iraq

by Heather Preston

The Patriarch of the largest church denomination in Iraq is sounding the alarm on a fresh wave of Christians leaving the country.

Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, leader of the Chaldean church in Iraq says a hundred families from Qaraqosh alone have fled in recent months while dozens from other cities have followed suit.

Iraq's Christian population has shrunk by over 75 per cent since the war in 2003, as many have suffered extreme persecution.

The cardinal blames the most recent migration on a lack of stability and equity for Christians in the region:

“Attacks on Christians are still continuing: on their skills, their jobs, the seizure of their properties and cases of forced conversion of their religion by ISIS or others,” Sako said, adding that the government have failed to preserve the rights of Christians there.

“It is not serious about doing justice to Christians. They keep saying pretty words without action.”

In 2023, Iraq’s president Abdul Rashid revoked a decree recognising Sako as head of the Christian Church in Iraq. Sako sought to overturn the decision, but had his case dismissed by Iraq’s Supreme Court.

Matthew Barns, Iraq specialist for charity Open Doors tells Premier Christians are being “squeezed out” in all areas of society:

“There's a demographic change taking place in the Nineveh Plains where many Christians are living - people from a Muslim background take over their ground, their properties, their houses, sometimes in a legal way, but often also not that legal.”

Barns says Christians have also lost their seats in Parliament: “The Iraqi government decided that the seats reserved for minorities in the Kurdish parliament, are not constitutional. So another point that Christians are not recognised anymore in the country.”

The stream of Christians leaving the country is also having a negative impact on churches there, according to Barns who says church members and leaders are “demotivated” as their buildings become increasingly empty.

Open Doors is calling for the government to recognise Cardinal Sako’s position, reinstate parliament seats for Christians and to protect the land and welfare of Christians living in Iraq.

“[We ask] that the government stands strong against all kinds of violence against Christians, and that there's no impunity for those who will persecute Christians or mistreat them,” Barns added.

Iraq ranks at number 16 on the Open Doors list of 50 countries where Christians suffer the most extreme persecution.


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