|Many churches in Iraq have been targeted by Islamists|
“The attacks on Christians continue and the world remains totally silent. It’s as if we’ve been swallowed up by the night.” These are the words of a Christian in Iraq following bomb attacks at five churches in Kirkuk in the space of just one month.
Since the Gulf War of 1990-1 Iraqi Christians have increasingly been targeted by Muslim extremists, and after the US-led invasion of 2003 there was a huge surge in anti-Christian threats, kidnappings and murders. Much of the violence has been centred on church buildings and church leaders, a clear message to the Christians that they are being persecuted because of their faith. Many Christians have received messages telling them to convert to Islam, leave or be killed.
Although the anti-government insurgency that fuelled the violence has been brought under some sort of control, attacks on Christians have continued. Hundreds of thousands have fled their homes, mostly to other countries, reducing the Christian population to around a quarter of the size it was in 1990.
Iraqi Christians are now running out of safe havens, both in their homeland and in other countries. With Syria’s descent into the chaos of civil war, and the potential destabilising of both Lebanon and Jordan following the “Arab Spring”, many of those who fled Iraq to escape anti-Christian violence face the prospect of these countries falling into Islamist hands. But Iraq itself remains desperately dangerous for them.
Many Christians took refuge in the relatively stable autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan to the north, but they struggle to find work to support themselves. Furthermore, anti-Christian violence is beginning to occur even in this region. Some Christian businesses have been torched, and a young Christian man was kidnapped and held for ransom in a chilling echo of numerous incidents elsewhere in Iraq.
Meanwhile the anti-Christian bloodshed rages on in the major cities. In just a few days in 2012, the body of a Christian photographer was found riddled with bullets in Mosul, and two guards were killed when a bomb exploded near a church in Baghdad. Those responsible for such incidents are rarely prosecuted. Christians also suffer significant discrimination, marginalisation and injustice.