By Church Militant
Iraq, an epicenter of persecution, has bled itself of Christians for the past 15 years.
On Monday, the Iraqi Human Rights Society (IHRS) issued a report outlining the magnitude of their suffering.
Since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, the once-flourishing
community has been decimated, with 81 percent of its population (roughly
1.2 million people) either dead or in exile.
The IHRS report echoes a landmark 2017 study by Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
"Persecuted and Forgotten?" that revealed the Christian population
"showed a decline from 275,000 in mid-2015 to below 200,000 two years
later and possibly as few as 150,000."
In the past year, 37,000 Christians have returned to home to the Ninevah Plains, but this is still not enough to stabilize their presence in the country.
"An eradication of Christians," ACN warned, "was — and still is — the
specific and stated objective of extremist groups at work in Iraq."
Bands of Islamist terrorists began targeting followers of Christ not
long after the 2003 overthrow of dictator Saddam Hussein, with al-Qaeda
in Iraq (AQI) proclaiming publicly that all "infidels" in Iraq should
prepare for death.
But after a focused, years-long social, political and military
campaign by coalition forces, AQI was defeated and beaten back into the
country's western desert. In 2011, the remaining terrorists withdrew
from Iraq altogether, heading north into Syria to regroup amid its
widening civil war.
In 2014, President Obama's policy of disengagement allowed the
Islamists to come roaring back. Sweeping down from the north, the
reinvigorated group — now calling itself "ISIS" — overran northern Iraq,
home to the majority of the country's Christians.
During its three-year rule, ISIS waged war against Iraqi Christians.
Houses were plundered. Churches were torched. Thousands were raped,
tortured and murdered.
Even now, a year after the collapse of ISIS Caliphate, the position of Iraqi Christians is extremely precarious.
According to documentarian Gwendolen Cates, who has spent much of the
past three years on the ground in the country, "The Christians of Iraq,
along with other religious minorities, live in constant fear and face
potential genocide. ... The minorities are being increasingly
'ghettoized,' with their land being taken."
In March, The Baghdad Post reported
that Christians are "suffering under Iran's growing influence in their
country," with "non-Muslim minority communities ... systemically
targeted by foreign fundamentalists" pouring into Iraq.
In the midst of their suffering, Iraqi Christians have been largely abandoned by the West.
Though President Trump has reversed the Obama administration's "lead
from behind" approach, among European countries only Hungary has
committed to preserving Iraq's Christian community.
According to ACN's 2017 study, "Governments in the West and the U.N.
failed to offer Christians in countries such as Iraq and Syria the
emergency help they needed as genocide got underway. If Christian
organizations and other institutions had not filled the gap, the
Christian presence could already have disappeared in Iraq."
"The defeat of Daesh [ISIS] and other Islamists ... offers the last
hope of recovery for Christian groups threatened with extinction," it
adds. "Many would not survive another similar violent attack."