Amid growing intolerance and persecution, the Christian population in Iraq is declining rapidly. Urgent prayer is needed for this community, who have been present in the region for almost 2,000 years


Source: Mazur/

Over the last few months, hundreds of Christians have packed their possessions and left their homes in Iraq. This latest exodus adds to the hundreds of thousands of Christians who have abandoned their country in the past decades. It’s not something that any of them do lightly, but many feel they have no choice.

Although over 97 per cent of Iraq’s population are Muslim, there has been a Christian community there since the first century – widely believed to have been founded by the Apostle Thomas.

Attacks on Christians are still continuing: on their skills, jobs, the seizure of property

As recently as the 1990s, there were roughly 1.5 million Christians in Iraq. A combination of factors, including the rise of attacks and the brutal Islamic State (ISIS) have seen the number drop to an estimated 153,000. Since then, the question has repeatedly been asked: “Can Christianity survive in Iraq?”

Squeezed out

Last month Cardinal Louis Sako, leader of the Chaldean Catholic Church, Iraq’s biggest denomination, sounded the alarm. He warned of “a new flow of migration” adding that in the last few months alone, some 100 families from the Christian town of Qaraqosh had left.

Why are they leaving? There are several possible answers but, chiefly, it is because Christians in Iraq feel that they are being squeezed out of public life – or to put it another way, they no longer feel they “count”.

Last week, hundreds of Christians took to the streets to protest a court ruling that declared the eleven seats reserved for minorities in the parliament of the Kurdistan Region (an autonomous region in northern Iraq) ‘unconstitutional’. Out of these eleven, six seats were designated for Christians. According to the protesters this will make it impossible for Christian candidates to hold a seat in the Kurdistan parliament.

Meanwhile, Iraq’s president, Abdul Latif Rashid, revoked a 2013 decree recognising Cardinal Sako as Patriarch of the Chaldean Church. Now, in the eyes of the government, Sako and his bishops have no position nor legitimate voice to speak up for the people they represent.

Intolerance and persecution

One can see why the Iraqi government might not want to offer legitimacy to someone like Cardinal Sako. He has been forthright in highlighting how minorities like Christians are being sidelined. As he explains that “attacks on Christians are still continuing on their skills, their jobs, the seizure of their properties.”

He also described “cases of forced conversion by ISIS or others, the Islamization of minors, failure to preserve their rights, an attempt to deliberately erase their heritage, history, religious legacy, expressions of hatred in some religious discourses as well as in education books.”

It is this steady ‘drip, drip drip’ of intolerance and marginalisation that sends the message: “You are no longer welcome” to a people that have lived in the region for nearly 2,000 years.

Hundreds of Christians have packed their possessions and left their homes in Iraq

In September 2023, a fire at a Christian wedding in Qaraqosh killed more than 130 people and made headlines worldwide. It was an accident, but still very telling. The fire was partly caused by a lack of monitoring of security guidelines by the government. For many people in Qaraqosh, this lack of concern for the safety and wellbeing of Christians is yet further confirmation that no one cares about them.

Praying for change

Iraq is currently 16th on the Open Doors’ World Watch List, which ranks the nations where life for Christians is the toughest. It has risen two places since last year, demonstrating that things are getting harder for Christians there.

Open Doors’ partners are working hard to give Christians a reason to stay by offering training and providing micro loans to help people build a livelihood and flourish in their home towns and villages against the odds.

However, many of the Christians there feel abandoned. They need to know they haven’t been forgotten. Please pray for our brothers and sisters in Iraq, that each of them will know what God wants of their lives. When a person knows he or she is called by the Lord to be in a certain place, they will stay.