Homes and businesses left behind by Iraq’s Christians are being illegally taken, as hostile forces continue to scrape off the last vestiges of two millennia of Christian presence in the country.

“ISIS has displaced 120,000 Christians from Mosul and the Nineveh Plains, destroying monasteries, churches and homes to erase their memory. Now, certain others are taking over Christian properties,” London-based Al-Hayat quoted Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako as saying.

“Titles to such properties are being ‘forged’ in Baghdad, with the idea in mind that properties of non-Christians are ‘halal’,” said Sako in statement on 5 Feb., carried by the pan-Arab newspaper.

In a wider Islamic context, ‘halal’ speaks for what can be consumed without guilt. In the context of non-Muslim property, it means homes can be taken with impunity.

“Homes and businesses in Baghdad’s upmarket areas, where Christians used to live, continue to be seized on forged grounds,” said Christian MP Yonadem Kenna.

“The illegal seizures include homes left or leased by Christians before they departed. Sums of up to US$10,000 exchange hands to issue false titles after the property is claimed by the force of arms,” added Kenna, pointing the finger to religious militias and government officials.

In June 2015, a member of the Baghdad municipal council claimed that nearly 70% of Christian-owned homes in Baghdad were illegally seized during the post-2003 chaos.

The phenomenon is not restricted to the capital. In mid-January, the self-proclaimed Islamic State started to auction Christian properties it seized in Mosul, whereas according to the 2016 Open Doors World Watch List (an annual list of countries where Christians are most persecuted), the government of Iraq’s Kurdish region “was ordering land to be sold to Muslim families in several Christian areas”.