8 Churches Close in Baghdad Amid Shrinking Iraqi Christian Population

(Photo: Reuters/Ahmed Saad)A priest gives communion to an Iraqi Christian woman, during mass at Mar George Chaldean Church in Baghdad, March 1, 2015. Iraqi Christians say they have no intention of leaving the country despite the recent abduction of over 100 Assyrian Christians by the Islamic State. Picture taken March 1, 2015.

Eight Christian churches in Iraq's capital city of Baghdad have closed their doors due to the fact that so many Christians have fled the region out of fear of being persecuted by radical Muslims, a Christian human rights organization has reported. 

As the rise of the Islamic State terrorist organization has devastated Christian communities in northern regions in Iraq such as Mosul and Nineveh Plains, Christianity has also suffered in many other regions of Iraq in the past 15 years.

According to International Christian Concern, a decline in the Christian population has also been greatly experienced in Baghdad. The Christian persecution advocacy group reported on Monday that as many as eight churches in Baghdad were forced to close by the Vatican this May "after nearly seven years of low to no attendance."

"After the regional Catholic Church authority visited the churches, the Vatican decided that it was best to close the doors for good," the ICC report states. "While this makes logistical sense, it represents a symbolic defeat for the Church in the capital of Iraq."

As over 1 million fewer Christians live in Iraq than they did in 2003, the emigration of Iraqi Christians, who once comprised 10 percent of Iraq's total population, can be divided into three different stages, one Baghdad resident told ICC.

"The first was from 2005-2007, [the] second was in 2010 when some extremists attacked [a] church during Sunday mass and the third stage was in 2014 when ISIS attacked [the] Nineveh Plain," the resident asserted.

ICC reported that after sectarian violence began in 2005 and Christians started receiving threats from radical Muslims, "it was commonplace for Christians to receive envelopes containing bullets and a threat from nearby extremists." Such messages successfully pressured thousands of Christians to flee from their homes and neighborhoods.

"In early 2006, we forcibly left our house because we got an envelope tell[ing] us, 'You have to leave within 48 hours, all you have to take is your clothes, if you t[ake] anything else we will kill you,'" a former Baghdad resident named Seza told ICC. "Still I have the envelope and the three bullets we received from the gang."

The second exodus of Christians was sparked by an extremist attack on a Syriac Catholic Church in Baghdad in October 2010, when six suicide bombers interrupted a Sunday mass and killed 58 Christians and wounded 78.

The third exodus of Christians from Iraq is directly related to the 2014 rise of the Islamic State, which has killed and enslaved thousands of religious minorities and drove hundreds of thousands of people from their homes and villages in northern Iraq. The actions committed by the Islamic State against Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities has been declared a "genocide" by former U.S. Sec. of State John Kerry and the European Parliament.

"Now, in 2017, the Christian population in Iraq is just a fraction of what it used to be," the ICC report explained. "So much so that eight churches have been closed down in Baghdad, relics of a community since departed. It's important to recognize that ISIS is not solely responsible for this. Christians have faced various forms of persecution and discrimination from a wide variety of perpetrators throughout the past 15 years."

The fear of persecution became so extreme that Canon Andrew White, the vicar of St. George's Church in Baghdad who is also known as "the Vicar of Baghdad," was ordered to leave Iraq by the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby in November 2014.

This past March, White told Fox News that "the time has come where it is over" and that "no Christians will be left."

"Some say Christians should stay to maintain the historical presence, but it has become very difficult. The future for the community is very limited," White explained. "The Christians coming out of Iraq and ISIS areas in the Middle East all say the same thing, there is no way they are ever going back. They have had enough."

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