Iraq: it's not over ...
Most of Iraq’s Christians are descended from the Old Testament Assyrians,yet their days may be numbered. Wilfred Wong investigates.
With the re-capture of Mosul from so-called Islamic State (IS) some may mistakenly assume that the worst is over for the longsuffering, persecuted Christians of Iraq. Unfortunately, this is not the case at all. IS deliberately destroyed numerous Christian churches and villages before they withdrew from the Nineveh Plain in northern Iraq, making it much harder for the returning Christians to re-establish their homes and lives. The Nineveh Plain can be regarded as the last major stronghold of Iraq’s Christians, although various NonChristian communities also live there.
In addition, Iraq’s Christian community faces major challenges from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) which rules the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan. For many years the KRG has coveted Christian-owned land. Within Kurdistan at least 58 Christian villages have had some or all of their land misappropriated by Kurds. Not only has the KRG repeatedly failed to enforce the law against the thieves and ensure that the land was returned to its rightful Christian owners; but, on various occasions, the KRG has itself been guilty of misappropriating Christian-owned land.
I have personally visited many of these Christian villages, interviewed villagers and heard a similar story over and over again: Muslim Kurds misappropriating Christian-owned land, Christians complaining to the Kurdish authorities and no action being taken to return the land to its rightful owners.
The KRG wants to annex the Nineveh Plain and make it part of Kurdistan even though that area has no deep or longstanding historical link to the Kurds. By contrast the Assyrians have lived in the Nineveh Plain for over 6,000 years.
In July, the KRG forced out of his position the Assyrian Christian mayor of the Christian village of Alqosh, in the Nineveh Plain. He was initially replaced by a Muslim Kurd. A Kurdish mayor was forcibly imposed on that Assyrian Christian village and the democratically elected Christian mayor removed.
The people of Alqosh rejected having Adel Amin Omar as their mayor so in an attempt to try and make the Kurdish takeover of this Assyrian Christian village appear less obvious, the Nineveh Provincial Council then replaced Omar with an Assyrian member of the KDP.
Lara Yousif was made the new mayor of Alqosh. But although Lara is an Assyrian Christian, she is also a member of the KDP, which is a Kurdish political party for Kurdistan. And Alqosh is an Assyrian Christian village that is clearly outside Kurdistan. Lara Yousif is also unelected.
300,000 or less Christians left in Iraq
Today there are about 300,000 or less Christians left in Iraq, compared to 1.2 million in 2003 – the result of unrelenting and intense anti-Christian violence, which began shortly after the U.S-British invasion that year. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christians have fled abroad. Over 95% of Iraq’s Christians are Assyrians, the descendants of the Assyrians of Old Testament times.
Since 2003, over 1,000 Iraqi Christians have been murdered. The Christians have been relentlessly targeted by Muslim extremists for kidnapping, violence and assassinations and the KDP has on some occasions also targeted the Christians for killing. Many Kurds in northern Iraq and their leading political party, the KDP, do not respect the Christians’ rights, as has been demonstrated by the Kurdish misappropriation of land from at least 58 Christian villages.
In September and October 2008, at least 13 Christians were killed in Mosul in a series of targeted assassinations against Christians which also caused over 2,000 Christian families to flee. A military unit under the control of the KDP has been identified by an Iraqi government investigation as being responsible for the killing of these Christians.
Long before IS captured Mosul in 2014 the Islamic extremists in Iraq were already systematically trying to wipe out the Iraqi Christian community. The Muslim extremists inflicted brutal and barbaric violence on Iraq’s Christians. Although for now IS has been largely driven out of Iraq, it’s still possible that Muslim extremists will continue to launch lethal attacks against the Iraqi Christian community.
Let us pray that this will not happen and that Iraq’s Christians will be very well protected.
Suffering of Iraqi Christians
There are numerous tragic stories of indescribable suffering by Iraq’s Christians. Here are just some examples, which occurred long before IS took Mosul and large swathes of Iraq.
D, a five-and-a-half-year-old Iraqi Christian girl was living in Baghdad when she was kidnapped and raped until the ransom of US$13,000 was paid and she was then returned. She had been held for 7 days. Her family fled Iraq as the kidnappers had threatened to kill them because they were all Christians. Two Christian sisters, aged 25 and 23, were kidnapped in 2005 in Baghdad. Both were kept in a room and raped daily for 3 months, by 5 Muslim men. A ransom of US$52,000 was paid. As the kidnappers were about to return the girls they sadistically cut off the left breast of one of them.
R, a Christian young woman, had 2 young daughters, aged 6 and 4. She was 7 months pregnant in September 2006 and lived in Baghdad with her family. They received threatening letters telling them to leave because they were not Muslims and did not have the right to stay in a Muslim country. They received these letters at about 5 pm but did not leave. The next day at around noon the Muslim extremists came with rifles, smashed open their door and entered.
They pushed her husband to the wall and raped R. Then they beheaded R’s husband in front of her and her two young children. His blood sprayed over all 3 of them. After that they placed R face down on the floor and jumped on her back till she lost consciousness. R survived but lost her baby.
S is a Christian carpenter, originally from Mosul. He and his family fled that city after his son was kidnapped and beheaded in 2004 and after he received threatening letters from Islamic extremists. I interviewed this man when I was in Iraq. He had such an awful look of sadness and despair on his face. His son had been abducted by some Muslim extremists so they could behead him for being a Christian. They made no ransom demands. The kidnappers filmed this young man’s beheading and threw a DVD of it into his father’s garden. S picked it up and watched it, not knowing what it was and witnessed the full horror of what was done to his son.
E is originally from Baghdad but fled to northern Iraq after her husband was kidnapped. She borrowed and begged for the money to pay his ransom but even after paying it he was never returned and is presumed dead. E has three young children but no regular income. She has received some aid from the leading Iraqi Christian charity, the Assyrian Aid Society (AAS).
Aid for Iraqi Christians
Many of Iraq’s Christians have received aid from the AAS, such as food and other necessities including money. The AAS is an Iraqi Christian Relief and Development organization established by Iraqi Christians in 1991 in the chaotic aftermath of the first Gulf War to serve their community.
Iraq’s Christian community faces a high risk of extinction and there are many who want to wipe it out. We who thankfully do not face such horrors can help Iraq’s Christians in their time of need by giving generously to the AAS.
The Apostle Paul encouraged generous giving to help our fellow believers and he himself raised funds to assist many needy Christians. In 2 Corinthians 8:1-4, Paul strongly commended the generous, sacrificial giving of the poor Macedonian Christians to assist needy believers in Judea. He commented that out of their extreme poverty welled up rich generosity (verse 2) and that the poor Macedonian Christians had “pleaded…… ..for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.” (verse 4) It is a real privilege for us to help needy Christians! I
n 2 Corinthians 9:6 Paul urges generosity again, stating, “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” This challenges us with the question: “What kind of harvest do we want our lives to bring forth?”
The AAS do not have a branch in the UK but you can make a cheque out to: Agape International and send it to: Wilfred Wong, 30 Pied Bull Court, Galen Place, London WC1A 2JR,with a note stating that your donation is for the AAS’ aid to Iraq’s Christians. All of your donation will be passed on to the AAS.
Iraq’s Christians also urgently need more campaigning and advocacy on their behalf. With the KRG steadily encroaching on the rights and property of Iraq’s Christians and the ever-present threat from brutal Islamic extremists, now more than ever Iraq’s Christians urgently need their Brothers and Sisters in Christ to stand up and speak out for them.
If you are interested in becoming a letter writer in support of Iraq’s persecuted Christians, please Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org to let me know.