Christians in Iraq

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Iraqi Christians celebrate Christmas Eve Mass in the Chaldean Church of the Virgin Mary in al-Qoush, northern Iraq, just 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) from the frontline, exactly where Kurdish Peshmerga fighters battle the forces of the Islamic State group. A…
Christians in Iraq

Iraqi Christians celebrate Christmas Eve Mass in the Chaldean Church of the Virgin Mary in al-Qoush, northern Iraq, just 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) from the frontline, exactly where Kurdish Peshmerga fighters battle the forces of the Islamic State group. A lot of of the worshippers are displaced from their residences after Islamic State militants swept through northern Iraq in August.

On Christmas Day in 2008, I attended early-morning Mass at the Al Qaleb Al Aqdas (Sacred Heart) Church, in the Karrada district of Baghdad. Though Christians had currently come to be targets in Iraq’s civil war and thousands had fled, the Chaldean Catholic church was filled with properly-dressed families, and a choir sang near a significant Christmas tree. Some worshipers continued on to a Santa Claus show in a nearby park.

These days are long gone.

The quantity of Chaldeans (whose church dates to the early Christian era), and of members of other ancient Iraqi Christian sects, has plummeted in current years amid repeated attacks by Shiite and Sunni Islamists. But the most terrible blow came final year, when Islamic State terrorists sent 200,000 Christians fleeing from their historical heartland in northern Iraq, like the city of Mosul, leaving it empty of Christians for the initially time in 1,600 years.

“As I speak, the method of the eradication of Christians in Iraq and throughout the Middle East continues,” the Detroit-based Chaldean Bishop Francis Kalabat told a Senate hearing last month. Ten years ago, he stated, there were more than 350 churches in Iraq, but nowadays there are fewer than 40. Many were bombed and destroyed, specifically in the historically Christian villages of the north. Community leaders estimate that the Christian population has dropped from additional than a million to fewer than 400,000, many of them internal refugees.

“The United States has a unique role and obligation in this conflict,” Kalabat added in a stunning indictment, “ … since the plight of Christians in Iraq right now is a direct outcome of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.”

What did Kalabat imply? The bishop, who serves 175,000 Chaldean Catholics in North America, explained: “The poorly planned and executed aim of regime alter and the much more current withdrawal of U.S. troops left in its wake a weakened and decentralized national government, sectarian warfare, and the practice of government by tribes or … by gang.” This lack of national unity, he added, left a risky void filled “hopefully only temporarily” by the Islamic State.

What the bishop didn’t say is that with few exceptions, the Middle East’s Christian communities have looked to Arab dictators or monarchs to shield them, including Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and the generals who led Egypt just before the Tahrir Square revolution and are now leading it once again.

Some Christians hoped that the advent of new Arab democracies could possibly usher in an era of pluralism in which they would be welcome. Rather, the 2011 revolts sparked sectarian wars in Iraq and Syria in which Christians have been targeted.

The one location in Iraq that has offered Christian refugees shelter, and is now hosting about 200,000 of them, is Iraqi Kurdistan, an autonomous area in the north. Its non-Arab, Muslim population suffered drastically under Saddam Hussein and now welcomes other persecuted minorities. The Kurds, nonetheless, are drowning below the burden of hundreds of thousands of members of minority groups who are fleeing the Islamic State (also recognized as ISIS). They involve not just Christians, but Yazidis and other individuals.

This raises numerous pressing queries: In the lengthy term, can Christians ever return to their Iraqi heartland, which incorporates the Islamic State-occupied city of Mosul? Do Arab Christians, whose roots in the region precede the Muslim conquest, have a future in Iraq or, indeed, in the region? And if Iraq’s Christians can’t return home, what will the United States and Europe do to aid the Kurds give them permanent shelter or to absorb those who want to make their houses in the West?

Bishop Kalabat’s comments and my conversations via Skype with aid workers in Erbil, Kurdistan, produced it clear that acquiring an answer to the last query is urgent. Despite the fact that church groups in Erbil and abroad are assisting Christian refugees, many are living in unfinished cinder-block buildings, an unfinished mall, and tents — in the midst of a cold, wet winter. Those with revenue to rent apartments are running by way of their savings. Their children aren’t getting educated due to the fact overburdened Kurdish schools can’t cope with the influx.

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