Church in Ankawa, northern Iraq (Image credit: phedlund33/Flickr)
The ever-shrinking number of Christians in Iraq will have to celebrate Christmas in private this year, if they are able to celebrate it at all, according to human rights groups.
British MPs recently called Christianity “the most persecuted religion globally,” and the targeting of Christians around the world only seems to be on the rise.
“There’s a culture of fear that has developed there that makes it hard for people to want to go to church to express their faith, especially at the holiday season,” said David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors USA, according to Fox News.
“These extremist groups desire religious cleansing and they’re increasing in number particularly in northern Iraq,” Curry said. In the past, northern Iraq was a safe haven for Iraqi Christians.
Currently, there are an estimated 330,000 Christians in Iraq, down from over 1 million Christians in the past, according to Open Doors.
Iraq ranks fourth on the 2013 list of the nations that are the worst persecutors of their Christian population. The top three are North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, according to Open Doors.
“We’re deeply concerned that Christianity is being squeezed out to extinction maybe in the next decade or so in the Middle East,” Curry said, reflecting similar statements made by a British official in November.
“Some of these countries, especially Iraq, have environments that are very hostile because of extremists in the region,” he said.
In Iraq, Christians face everything from threats and harassment to attacks on their homes and businesses. There are even physical assaults on Christian worshippers, all of which contributes to the exodus of Christians from the country.
Many church leaders in Iraq tell Open Doors that Christians are attacked every two to three days.
Typical Christmas traditions like buying a Christmas tree or decorating the home are avoided out of fear of persecution, according to a pastor in Iraq who spoke on codition of anonymity.
On Sept. 22, a bomb was detonated outside of a home of Emad Youhanna, a Christian politician in Iraq, wounding 19 people including three of Youhanna’s children, according to World Watch Monitor.
Over 1,000 Christians have been killed in Iraq since 2003, and more have been kidnapped and tortured, according to Archbishop of Baghdad Louis Raphael I Sako.
Some 62 churches and monasteries have also been vandalized or destroyed, Sako said.
Around 850,000 Christians have left Iraq since 2003, according to the United Nations Committee for Refugees.
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