It is estimated that approximately 250 000 Christians are living in Iraq: Christian groups include Chaldean Catholics (67 % of all Christians) and the Assyrian Church of the East (a further 20 %). Less numerous denominations include Syrian Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, Armenian Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Anglican, Evangelical and other Protestants.
Following the eruption of violence in the years after the US invasion, Christians were targeted for their religious affiliation as well as for their perceived ties with the West. Most Christians in Iraq had already fled before the 2014 ISIL advance. The majority of the Christians remaining in Iraq live in the Ninewa plains Basrah and in the north part of the KRI.
Under ISIL, Christians suffered killings, kidnapping, rape, enslavement, forced marriage, and sexual violence. ISIL subjected Christians to high levels of violence and discrimination in the areas under its control, forcing Christians to convert to Islam, pay jizya or face death or expulsion. Following ISIL’s defeat, its potential to wage large-scale campaigns has been significantly reduced to low-intensity insurgency. However, the UN Security Council had repeatedly throughout 2019 and 2020 highlighted ISIL’s continued targeting of civilians and security forces in Ninewa, Kirkuk, Erbil and Baghdad governorates.
The security situation of Christians is complex due to the presence of multiple armed actors in their traditional areas of origin, primarily ISF, PMU and KRG Peshmerga. Long-running territorial disputes between the government of Iraq and KRG in disputed areas result in Christians continually reporting scepticism towards the Iraqi forces’ capability to protect them from sectarian factions within PMU, Shia and Sunni armed groups, and ISIL.
Examples of reported violence against Christians include abductions, illegal arrests, unlawful detention, prevention of return, physical intimidation, assault, rape, (sexual) harassment, religious discrimination, threats via social media, robbery and theft of land or property, especially in Ninewa plains. There are also reports that some government officials have attempted to facilitate demographic change by allocating land and housing to Shias and Sunnis in predominantly Christian areas in the Ninewa Plains.
Additionally, Christians in KRI have reported that they were subjected to politically and territorially motivated movement restrictions. Violence against Christians in the KRI has been less common, but Christians in the region have faced discrimination in the form of intimidation and denial of access to services. Christian NGOs have reported that some Muslims threatened and harassed women and girls for refusing to wear the hijab or not adhering to strict interpretations of Islamic norms regarding public behaviour.
Assyrian Christians have complained of land appropriations by ethnic Kurds, which may have occurred with the ‘blessing, or tacit consent’ of Kurdish officials. Complaints about appropriation of Christian land by ethnic Kurds have been long-standing and originated mainly from Dohuk and Erbil governorates. A law was issued in 2015 by the Kurdistan parliament to address the issue, however sources report that the law has not yet been enforced.
In Baghdad, Christians reported that they fear being targeted for extortion, kidnapping, and having their property taken away by Shia militias. According to reports from 2017, criminal networks and some militia groups have seized the property of Christians with relative impunity, particularly in Baghdad, but also in areas of Anbar, Babil, Basrah, Diyala, and Wassit.
In the south and PMU-controlled areas in the Ninewa Plains, Christians have been reported to refrain from celebrating religious feasts overlapping with the Shia Islamic Ashura period. Non-Muslim minorities, especially women, have been reported to be socially pressured to follow certain Islamic practices, such as wearing the hijab and all-black clothing during Muharram, and fasting during Ramadan, to avoid harassment. Christian women continued to face discriminatory stereotypes.
Christian religious education is available in public schools in areas where there is concentrated Christian population.
With regard to conversion, see Individuals considered to have committed blasphemy and/or apostasy.
The acts to which individuals under this profile could be exposed are of such severe nature that they would amount to persecution (e.g. killing, rape, abduction, arbitrary arrest, unlawful detention). In other cases, individuals could be exposed to (solely) discriminatory measures, and the individual assessment of whether or not discrimination could amount to persecution should take into account the severity and/or repetitiveness of the acts or whether they occur as an accumulation of various measures.
Not all individuals under this profile would face the level of risk required to establish a well-founded fear of persecution. The individual assessment of whether or not there is a reasonable degree of likelihood for the applicant to face persecution should take into account risk-impacting circumstances such as: area of origin (e.g. Christians in areas where ISIL continues to operate are at higher risk; risk is lower in KRI), gender, etc.
Nexus to a reason for persecution
Available information indicates that persecution of this profile is for reasons of religion.