Iraqi Christians gripped with fear

LONDON, Oct. 1 (UPI) — The Christian community is Iraq is gripped with fear amid widespread persecution from Muslim insurgents, an archbishop from Baghdad said.

Archbishop Jean Sleiman told congregants at Aid to the Church in Need, an international pastoral aid group in London, that a majority of the Christian population still wants to leave the country despite a steady decline in violence against civilians.

The Christian population in Iraq dropped from highs of around 1 million in 2003 to about 400,000 currently, the newspaper Christian Today said Wednesday.

Sleiman said the threat of persecution to Iraqi Christians was “very real” and several in the community had resorted to practicing Islamic customs and dress in order to live in a climate of “coexistence under pressure.”

He said he faced open threats as a Christian leader in Baghdad, adding Islamic discrimination had relegated the community to second-class citizens, the newspaper said.

“The best way to protect not only Christians but all the citizens is to bring back the state of law in Iraq,” he said.