Iraqi authorities document Christian persecution for the first time

Christian persecution in Iraq is being officially documented for the first time under orders of the country's government. 

Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi has authorised the establishment of a committee that will work to end the ongoing abuses against Christians that have escalated since the rise of Islamic State. 

According to Fides news agency, the heads of the committee have already met with Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphael I to collect data, and will carry out a census of the homes and properties illegally seized from Christians. 

NGO Baghdad Beituna [Baghdad Our Home] estimates that there have been more than 7,000 violations against properties belonging to Iraqi Christians in the city since 2003. 

In July, the leaders of the Chaldean Patriarchate denounced the worsening security situation in a statement sent to Asia News. 

"This outrageous behaviour causes anguish and destroys the national mosaic of Iraqi society, weakening the prestige and authority of the state," the statement said. 

"Christians are indigenous citizens, and everyone praises their morality, their patriotism, and their roots in this country. For hundreds and hundreds of years they have contributed to its civilization and culture." 

The new security committee will also focus on the rising number of Christians who have been kidnapped. 

Four Iraqi Christians were abducted in Baghdad between late June and early July, two of whom were later found dead by police, despite ransoms having been paid by their families. 

A Christian member of Iraq's parliament, Imad Youkhana, issued a statement on July 9 calling for greater protections for the country's Christian population. 

He branded the kidnappings parts of an intimidation campaign bent on forcing Iraqi Christians out of the country, and warned that it was threatening Iraq's unity. 

In 2003, there were around 1.5 million Christians living in Iraq. There are now thought to be less than 200,000. 

by Carey Lodge

Iraqis protest corruption, lack of services while politicians blame everyone but themselves

The July 16 killing of Muntazar al-Hilfi by police in al-Madina, north of Basra, during a protest for improved services was redolent of the death of Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi on Jan. 4, 2011, which sparked the Arab Spring revolutions. 

Hilfi’s killing led to a series of massive protests throughout the central and southern cities that have continued until the time of this writing. Protesters are standing against rampant corruption in the country and the deterioration of services. 

The religious authority in Najaf showed complete and full support to the protesters and called for promptly meeting their demands. The spokesmen for the religious authority in Najaf, Sheikh Ahmed al-Safi and Sheikh Abdul Mahdi Karbalai, who are the Friday preachers in Karbala, voiced their support. 

On Aug. 7, Safi said in his Friday sermon, “The people who have tolerated tough times, stood in the face of schemes and participated in elections to choose the political powers ruling them expect — and they are right to do so — those politicians to work hard to provide them with a good life. 

They also expect the political class to fight corruption and achieve social justice, in addition to overcoming sectarian and partisan considerations in order to reform the state’s institutions.” Most of the parties that are part of the government — such as the Citizen Alliance (al-Muwatin) and the National Coalition (al-Wataniya) — expressed their reservations. 

Baqir Jabr al-Zubeidi, leader of the Citizen Alliance, said of a protest, “Dubious political parties stand behind this protest and wanted to stir chaos, annoy the citizens and humiliate the government.” Ayad Allawi, head of the National Coalition, voiced his support for the protests and blamed his political adversaries. 

He said, “We reiterate support for the rebellious protesters and we wish for the reforms that the people want to be implemented on a large scale.” He also called on the government to make real reforms that cater to the actual needs of citizens. 

It was striking that Iranian official authorities and Iraqi parties known for their loyalty to Iran strongly opposed the popular protests, leveling numerous accusations against them and trying to stop them. It is noteworthy that pro-Iran Islamic parties dominating government were targeted by protesters because of their poor governing performance. 

The protesters also demanded a secular state in Iraq. In this context, the chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces, Maj. Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi, said Aug. 9 that the ongoing crisis in Iraq is orchestrated and that protests are organized based on the instigation of well-known groups, non-Muslim ones sometimes, in order to portray the government in Baghdad as incapable. 

Firouzabadi called on the Iraqi people to beware of the machinations of enemies, to be patient and help the central government achieve progress and overcome problems. 

On Aug. 7, Najaf's Friday prayer imam Seyyed Sadr al-Din al-Qubanchi, known for his loyalty to Iran, called during his Friday sermon for refraining from participating in protests, saying that “[the protests’] objective is not reform but a return to nonreligious governance.” 

Nouri al-Maliki — the former prime minister who lost his job as vice president when the post was eliminated in the first series of reforms by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi — issued a number of statements Aug. 9 strongly opposing the protests and protesters. 

He said on Aug. 10 in an interview with a number of media outlets that “the protests went outside of the framework they should have stayed within because of their use of slogans against religion and Islamic movements.” Maliki expressed concerns over the possible loss of security in the next phase in the event that protests become uncontrollable. 

In an interview with Afaq TV on Aug. 14, he stated, “Today we face a new campaign of slogans and insults in the protests against the political symbols and religious scholars by the anti-religious movement,” adding that there are foreign projects complementing the Islamic State’s (IS) plan that stands behind these protests.