The closure of eight churches in Baghdad “represents a symbolic defeat” for the Church in Iraq’s capital city, reports International Christian Concern (ICC).
The Catholic churches were closed in May by the Vatican after seven years of falling or no attendance, said the charity which monitors persecution, pointing to three main stages of Christians leaving Baghdad since the beginning of the century.
Between 2005 and 2007 Sunni extremists turned their attention away from their sectarian fight with Shia groups and began threatening Christians. Seza, a former Baghdad resident, told ICC that she received a letter containing three bullets and a note telling her to leave her home and take only her clothes. Christians were a soft target for Islamic militants as the government crumbled during the country’s crisis, the ICC report said.
The second stage was in 2010 when an attack by six suicide bombers on Sayedat al-najat Syriac Catholic Church left 58 dead and 78 wounded. The third stage was in 2014 when the Islamic State group swept across the Nineveh plain forcing thousands of Christians to flee for safer areas in Iraq.
A staff member of the Christian charity Open Doors, which is involved with the church in Iraq, said “this kind of news is very discouraging for those who still live there and work hard to bring hope for those who want to stay”.
Another source told World Watch Monitor that the closure of the Baghdad churches has as much to do with the exodus of Christians over the past decades as it does with the exodus of Christians since the beginning of the 21st century.
In 2016 World Watch Monitor reported how Christians struggled to survive in violence-wracked Baghdad. “Once Baghdad’s churches were full of people,” a source said, pointing to broken roads, rubbish everywhere and a plague of cockroaches in a city which has been neglected for the past 13 years. “Most Christians [in Baghdad] are there because they have no other choice. They are too poor to leave or not physically able due to sickness or old age.”
A joint report between Open Doors, Middle East Concern and Served published in June found that over 50 per cent of Iraq’s Christians have left since violence intensified in 2006, but that the exodus had started long before.