Louis Sako, Chaldean Archbishop of Kirkuk, has said that Iraqi Christians are facing “bad days” as “ineffective” security cannot prevent criminality and violence targeting Christian minorities. Many of the Christians who remain are in such fear that they too want to leave Iraq, he said.
The future of Christianity in Iraq, even in the short term, now “hangs in the balance,” Archbishop Sako said in a phone interview with the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
Christians lack the protection of militia and have become “easy targets” for criminals, he reported.
Violence and the lack of jobs and services have encouraged many Christians to leave. There are now only 300 Christian families in southern Iraq and less than 400,000 Christians in Iraq as a whole. Within the past decade, their numbers have declined by 750,000.
In the northern city of Mosul, a former Christian heartland, many Christian families are “too afraid to come back.”
At one point in the interview, Archbishop Sako warned of rising extremism.
“Iraq is going to a narrow form of Islam,” he commented.
“I feel more pessimistic now than ever before. We do not have the same hope that we had before,” he told ACN. “In fact I am not seeing any signs of hope for the future. Our whole future hangs in the balance.
“We are experiencing bad days. Every group involved in criminal activity seems to be active.”
Archbishop Sako called Iraq’s security system “ineffective” and “unprofessional.”
“The government and the police are doing their best but they are incapable of controlling the situation,” he reported, saying that Christians are generally being attacked not because they are Christian but because they are seen to be defenseless.
Even one crime, abduction or killing makes the whole community want to move, he reported.
The archbishop spoke from Kirkuk, ten days after a Christian father of three was shot dead and a doctor was abducted on his way home in the city.
The turmoil is not localized to one part of Iraq.
“Every day, there are explosions – in Baghdad, Mosul, so many different places,” he added.
In July, militants attacked seven churches in Baghdad, killing and injuring dozens. Last week nearly 100 were killed in a series of attacks.
“Living in this climate, the Christian people are afraid. They are really worried. Despite what we tell them, encouraging them to stay, they want to leave,” Archbishop Sako said.
He reported that the people have lost patience with the country’s politicians. The prelate also called on Western countries to pressure Iraqi political groups to reconcile and try to reduce conflict and restore law and order.
“There can be no proper security without a real reconciliation. The only people who seem to be benefiting from the situation at the moment are the criminals. This has got to change,” he explained.
Archbishop Sako noted the crucial importance of interfaith work for coexistence between Christians and Muslims. While the archbishop is involved in initiatives in Kirkuk, such as hosting a Ramadan dinner this weekend, they are generally not replicated elsewhere in the country.
The work is small scale and involves individuals rather than the large groups crucial for attitude changes.
Church leaders and Christian politicians are also not doing enough to cooperate to confront common problems, Archbishop Sako told ACN.