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08 July 2016

Iraqi Christians suffer effects of war

Iraqi Christians suffer effects of war

Alliance member Release International has called the Iraq war a "tragedy" for Christians in the Middle East.

The region has seen a massive exodus of historic communities since the conflict started in 2003.

It is estimated that the majority of Christians in Iraq have fled, leaving just 250,000 behind.

Chaldean Archbishop Bashar M Warda told Release International: "Christians have lost their trust in the land and the future. The attack on Christians has been immense.

"Pray for their safety in this chaotic situation."

Iraq is now considered one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a Christian, ranking close to the top of the persecution watch lists

Today the Christian presence itself is now dwindling, not only in Iraq, but in the surrounding nations. Christians have been driven out by extremists who have flourished in the power vacuum created by the toppling of Saddam Hussein.

Paul Robinson, chief executive of Release International said: "In our visits to help persecuted Christians, many ordinary Iraqis told us that things had been better for believers under Saddam Hussein.

"Few had fond words for the dictator, who kept the church under tight surveillance and imprisoned some evangelicals, but the constant refrain was that Iraq had been safer under Saddam.

"The war has sown the seeds of religious violence for a generation."

Large swathes of the country remain under the control of Islamic State, who has demolished churches and confiscated Christian property, and have abducted Christian and Yazidi women as sex slaves.

IS militants have given Christians the ultimatum: convert, submit, or die. Thousands have been stripped of their belongings and forced from their homes to trek through the desert to Kurdistan.

And religious conservatism and intolerance is spreading to areas beyond IS control. Christian women have been threatened in the workplace and forced to wear headscarves. Many have been driven out.

Lena, a contact, told Release: "People were threatening us. My daughter received a letter with a bullet in it."

Another daughter, Dahlia added: "The extremists said we had to leave or we will shoot you. We were very scared." They left and fled to Kurdistan.

"Kurdistan is a place of relative safety for Christians – please pray for them," said Paul Robinson.

"Another encouraging sign is that Muslims, sickened by the violence being carried out in the name of religion, are coming to faith in Christ across the Middle East.

"So please pray that that Christian faith both survives and thrives in this region.

"Pray also that Christian refugees are afforded the same aid and treatment as others."

Release is working in Iraq to support Christian refugees by providing relief aid and training. Through its international network of missions Release serves persecuted Christians in 30 countries around the world, by supporting pastors and Christian prisoners, and their families; supplying Christian literature and Bibles, and working for justice.

Release, Open Doors UK and Christian Solidarity Worldwide have joined with the Evangelical Alliance to form the Religious Liberty Commission (RLC) which exists to speak up for Christians who are persecuted because of their faith. The RLC believes in the rights of all people, of any faith or none, to have freedom of religion or belief, including the freedom to convert.