BAGHDAD, March 10 (Xinhua) — Iraqi President Barham Salih on Sunday stressed the need to provide a peaceful environment for the displaced Christians to return to their homes in Iraq.
A statement by his office said that Salih met with Christian clergyman Patriarch Gorgis III in the presidential palace in Baghdad, where he stressed “the necessity of repatriating the Christians to their areas and homes and providing them with an appropriate environment.”
Salih called on the Christian clergymen “to play their vital role in emphasizing the importance of the return of our people from this (Christian) component to their country where they have lived in for thousands of years,” the statement said.
Salih also confirmed the need for peaceful coexistence among all Iraqi sects and religions to enhance the national cohesion in the Iraqi society as this is the best way to address extremism, it added.
“The Christians have been subjected, like other components, to persecution and forcible displacement by the terrorist Daesh organization (IS group),” the statement said.
Prior to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, around 1.5 million Christians lived in harmony and coexistence within the Iraqi society, but their number dwindled to under half million in 2013 and after the rise of the IS militant group, estimations put their number at around 250,000 left in the country. Most of the decrease is attributed to emigration abroad.