More and more Iraqi Christians are fleeing to the north of the country or abroad amid a new wave of violence and the fear that Iraq’s security forces are unwilling or unable to protect them. Several violent attacks have singled out Iraqi Christians, including the siege of a church on October 31 that killed both worshipers and priests. Some are worried that this mass exodus could cause the demise of Christianity in Iraq, citing the departure of Iraq’s Jews after the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.
“It’s exactly what happened to the Jews,” said one Christian who moved to the Kurdish capital with his family from Baghdad. “They want us all to go.”
Some leaders have said that it’s faith in the government, not religion, that has weakened. Some families have reported calling for help from the Iraqi army and simply being told that they’re no longer safe. And although both Sunni and Shiite Muslims are dying in targeted attacks across the country, the small numbers of Christians have made this issue seem much more pressing. Many Iraqi Christians have already left, and there are groups, like the Islamic State of Iraq, that have explicitly declared that their fighters will kill Christians “wherever we can find them.”
The Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq has offered a sanctuary for Iraqi Christians fleeing persecution. But moving is obviously a terrible ordeal, and it’s especially challenging for Christians who aren’t wealthy.
A UN commission declared that the nominal protections in Iraqi law directed at religious minorities can’t necessarily keep violence from being inflicted. Some are calling for an autonomous Christian enclave, which I’m not sure would help greatly. I wonder, also, whether Christians are free from the threat of violence in northern Iraq, or whether it would simply follow them.
There’s no question, though, that the Iraqi government needs to do more to help this persecuted minority – although it also needs to be placed in the context of the massive violence that continues in Iraq. The New York Times doesn’t suggest a connection between opposition to the West and opposition to Christians, but I wonder if that’s a possibility also, and what other complex issues are being elided by this fairly light analysis. How, for example, are other “minorities” targeted? And what is the perspective of the Christians who aren’t leaving? Is it just based on socioeconomic status? And how do Christians fit into their communities, since the violence seems primarily to be external?
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.