Iraq

Iraq is home to one of the oldest Christian communities in the world. Iraq’s Christians are ethnically and religiously diverse. Denominations include Armenian Catholics and Orthodox, members of the Assyrian Church of the East, Assyrian Orthodox, Chaldean Catholics, Evangelicals, Protestants, and Syriac Catholics and Orthodox; they speak different dialects of Aramaic and Armenian, practice unique Christian traditions, and possess distinct ethnic and cultural identities.

Prior to 2003, Iraq’s Christians constituted one of the largest minorities in Iraq, numbering approximately 1.5 million. By 2014, an estimated two-thirds had fled or been forced out of Iraq, fleeing the sectarian violence that has been rampant since 2003. In 2014, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) swept across northern Iraq, including the Nineveh Plain, the heartland of Christianity in Iraq.

In 2016, the U.S. Congress and Secretary of State declared that genocide had been committed against Christians and others. Over half a million Christians lived in Iraq before ISIS began its genocidal campaign to cleanse them and other religious minorities from the country. Now, only 200,000 Christians remain, most living as internally-displaced persons (IDPs) within the borders of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in inhumane, unsustainable conditions.  Many are in need of medical and mental health services.  Most welcome the opportunity to return to their homes on the Nineveh Plain, provided there is peace, security, and economic opportunity.

In order to protect and preserve Iraq’s ancient Christian communities, the U.S. government must emphasize the importance of the Christian presence in Iraqi civil society as a whole and in the Nineveh Plain region, in particular.

Recommendations:

  • Support efforts within Iraq to recognize the Nineveh Plain Province as a homeland for the region’s indigenous peoples. These communities have a right to self-determination and self-defense within the governing framework of the Republic of Iraq.
  • Provide direct assistance to the survivors of genocide in Iraq, including its indigenous Christian communities. Official government and United Nations (U.N.) aid does not reach these Christian communities. IDC has heard repeatedly from religious leaders, NGOs in the region, and genocide victims that Christians are last in line for assistance from governments.
  • Refer the evidence in the State Department’s possession of genocidal acts committed by ISIS or its affiliates to the United States Department of Justice and to the U.N. Security Council for criminal investigation, and, in proper cases, for indictment and prosecution in an appropriate legal venue.