Iraq jumped nine spots higher on this year's World Watch List that ranks countries based on persecution of Christians.
Open Doors, a ministry that supports persecuted Christians, ranked Iraq No. 8, up from No. 17, in its 2011 World Watch List. The country suffered its worst year of Christian persecution since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
The onslaught of attacks in Iraq began with the Baghdad church massacre on Oct. 31 that killed 58 people. The devastating attack was followed by unrelenting bombings and shootings targeting Christians throughout Iraq, including a few incidents where militants invaded Christian homes and killed people sitting in their living room. A series of ten bombs exploded in Christian homes in Baghdad on Dec. 30, killing two people and wounding more than a dozen.
At least 90 Christians were killed last year in Iraq, while hundreds more were injured in bomb and gun attacks, according to Open Doors.
Eight of the top ten countries where it is most dangerous to practice Christianity have Islam as the dominant religion.
"We have always, in 55 years working with persecuted Christians, responded only to one agenda – what do they (persecuted Christians) need. The reason we do the World Watch List is one response to that question – their request to making the world more aware of what is going on in their countries," said Carl Moeller, president/CEO of Open Doors USA, to The Christian Post on Wednesday after the list was released.
The annual list, compiled by the research department of Open Doors International, helps Christians target their prayers. It is also a powerful tool to help governments and public policy bodies understand Christian persecution around the world. The list has been used by the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and the European Union, according to Moeller.
The report states that persecution has increased in seven of the top ten countries on the list, even though in some cases the countries' rank did not change. Afghanistan rose from No. 6 to No. 3 and Uzbekistan, from No. 10 to No. 9. Despite not making the top ten list, Open Doors highlighted Pakistan in its reporting, noting that it jumped from No. 14 to No. 11 this year.
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Mauritania, however, dropped from No. 8 to No. 13.
Communist North Korea, meanwhile, topped the list for the ninth consecutive year.
"Please pray for brave believers like Asia Noreen (Bibi) who remains in prison in Pakistan after being sentenced to death on a false blasphemy charge," Moeller urged. "And for the dwindling Christian population in Iraq who are facing 'religicide' from Muslim extremists."
The World Watch List is based on an extensive questionnaire sent to Open Doors co-workers, key church leaders and recognized experts in 77 societies. The questionnaire examines every aspect of persecution, including the degree of legal restriction, state attitudes, how free the church is to organize itself, as well as incidents of persecution, such as church burnings, anti-Christian riots and even martyrdom. The reporting period for this year's list was from Nov. 1, 2009 through Oct. 31, 2010.
Top 10 on World Watch List 2011:
1. North Korea
4. Saudi Arabia
On the Web: www.opendoorsusa.org