IRAQ – What’s next for Christians in the Middle East?

Angesul | Stephen M. Rasche | January 14, 2020

The future of the Iraqi Christians stands now on a precipice.

The coming months will likely determine whether they are pushed fully into the abyss or whether the few slim reeds of hope remaining are able to take hold enough to give them still a chance for survival in their homeland, where they have practiced the Faith since it was brought to them by the early apostles in the first century A.D.  

A largely Eastern Rite Catholic population (many still using Aramaic, the language of Christ, in their liturgy and daily life), the Iraqi Christians numbered approximately 1.3 million in 2003 at the time of the U.S. invasion. 

Most estimates now place the number countrywide at less than 200,000, with some estimates far lower even that that. On this current trajectory, their disappearance in our lifetimes from the world’s cultural and human tapestry remains an entirely possible, however tragic, outcome.  

In understanding the current plight of the Iraqi Christians, it is necessary to examine the three remaining population clusters as each group faces unique challenges, in addition to the overall pressures resulting from the myriad forms of violence and persecution inflicted upon them over the centuries.

In the remaining Christian towns of Nineveh, which remain within the Iraqi federal government sector, the towns are virtually surrounded by elements of the Iranian backed Hashd al-Shaabi units. These units are paramilitary forces, mainly Shia Muslims loosely responsible to the federal government in Baghdad, but taking much of their direction and control from pro-Iranian factions and even Iranian actors themselves.  

It is the workings of these Iranian-backed paramilitary forces, and the Iranian leadership of them, which lies at the center of much of the current standoff between the U.S. and Iran. Originally formed for the purpose of fighting against ISIS, these units have remained intact even after the war and have sought to retain much of the power and control in the Christian areas of Nineveh. 

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