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Iraq: Christians Face Uncertain Future

Religious Liberty Prayer List – No. 216 – Wed 23 Apr 2003

————————————– IRAQ: CHRISTIANS FACE UNCERTAIN FUTURE ————————————–

Whilst Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship was brutal and ruthless, it was primarily political and not a religious oppression. He persecuted those who threatened his leadership. Shi’ites were a threat simply because they were in the majority, so Saddam repressed them mercilessly. The non-Arab, stateless Kurds, forming some 20% of the population, were suppressed because they resisted subjugation. The situation was intensified because Iraq’s oil fields lie in the predominantly Shi’ite south and the mostly Kurdish north. These groups were persecuted, terrorised and policed into submission. No-one dared criticise the regime. Saddam’s secular Baathism promoted pan-Arab nationalism and suppressed overt religious expression, including Islam.

As a small minority (estimated 1.5%), Iraq’s Christians were not a political threat to Saddam. Unless they challenged him directly, they were free to import Bibles and Christian literature, and worship without government interference or persecution. After the 1991 Gulf War, Saddam began to use Islam as a unifying force, permitting its expression in a way unknown for decades, with the aim of unifying Iraq’s fractured Muslims against a common outside enemy. Christians quietly watched this and many have emigrated.

Today, Iraqi Christians have good reason to feel anxious. Because they were not overtly persecuted by Saddam’s regime they risk being seen, by some, as Saddam sympathisers. Because they are Christians they risk being seen, by some, as pro-American. Iraq’s proposed draft Constitution is not secular, but Islamic. Many Christians have fled and are trying to find safe-haven as refugees. Lebanon however is refusing to grant visas to Iraqi refugees, and hundreds of Iraqi Christians are reported to be imprisoned there as illegal immigrants. The Church in Lebanon says it is struggling to care for some 6,000 Iraqi refugees.

Meanwhile, inside Iraq, Christian concern is growing as the Shi’ ite majority calls for an Iran-style Islamic state. Just before the war, observers noticed a sharp rise in radical rhetoric emanating from some mosques. Whilst Christians are relieved that Saddam has gone, they fear the prospect of living in an Iraq dominated by Islamic political parties. There is much despair and anxiety.


* for a spirit of calm, that the majority Muslim populace of Iraq will not be caught up in radicalism, but will maintain cordial relations with their trusted Christian neighbours, and honourably protect their interests as a vulnerable minority.

‘You faithfully answer our prayers with awesome deeds, O God our Saviour. You are the hope of everyone on earth. You quieted the raging oceans with their pounding waves and silenced the shouting of the nations.’ Psalm 65:5-7 (excerpts) NLT

* that those deciding on the new Iraqi Constitution will respect freedom of religion and not forget the Christian minority.

* that God will provide all the needs of Iraqi Christian refugees, whether in prison as illegal immigrants, or being sheltered in homes and camps through the Middle East, as well as Christians internally displaced inside Iraq; may God bless their carers. ‘… and your Father who knows all secrets, will reward you.’ Matt 6:4



Christians were not persecuted for their faith by the regime of Saddam Hussein as they were not a political threat. As long as they lived quiet, peaceful lives they could import Bibles and Christian literature and worship freely without government harassment. Iraq is over 96% Muslim and Christians, as only a 1.5% minority, are concerned, with the Shi’ite majority now calling for an Iran-style Islamic state. As the proposed draft Constitution is not secular but Islamic, Christians fear they may not have a voice in the new ‘democratic’ Iraq. Lots of Christians have fled Iraq in recent weeks, with many living in the Middle East as refugees or are imprisoned as illegal immigrants. We must bring their needs and fears before the Lord.

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Elizabeth Kendal researched and authored this message.

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