About 200 Christian families in Iraq have filed a lawsuit against the head of the country's Shia Endowment for inciting sectarian violence against the Christian minority by saying in a video that Christians should be converted to Islam or killed.
"Either they convert to Islam, or else they are killed or they pay the jizya [a tax on non-Muslims]," said Sheikh Alaa Al-Mousawi, who heads the government body which maintains all of Iraq's Shia holy sites, in a sermon, according to a YouTube video uploaded by Middle East Monitor.
Declaring Christians to be "infidels and polytheists," Al-Mousawi called for "jihad" against them. "Jews and Christians" must be fought and killed if they do not accept Islam, he went on to say.
The cleric is being compared to the Islamic State terror group, which is also known as IS, ISIS, ISIL or Daesh, which had asked Christians in Iraq's northern provinces in 2014 to covert, flee or be killed. As a result of that warning, about 100,000 Christians had to flee at the time.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby recently met with Iraqi Christians during a visit to Jordan.
"People are divided from their children and families and have no idea what will happen. One woman has children in both Germany and the Netherlands, but has been refused entry to both so she doesn't know when or if they will ever be reunited," Welby said. "Young men are vulnerable to being recruited to extremist causes because their community and networks have been stripped away."
Since 2003, as many as 1.5 million Christians, or close to 75 percent of all followers of Christ in Iraq, have fled the country, according to Josef Sleve, an Iraqi Christian lawmaker.
"The number of Christians living in the country now stands at between 500,000 and 850,000," Sleve told Anadolu Agency earlier this month. "This means that over the past 14 years, some 1.5 million Christians have emigrated to other countries."
IS has said it wants to wipe out Christians, and has beheaded, executed, tortured and enslaved thousands of people within its captured territory, which extends into Syria and other regions.
However, some Christians are now returning to their homes on the Plains of Nineveh in Iraq, and three major church groups have come together to rebuild more than 12,000 houses that were destroyed or damaged. The Syriac Catholic Church, the Syriac Orthodox Church and the Chaldean Catholic Church have formed the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee to plan and supervise the rebuilding of the houses.
Security forces backed by a U.S.-led international coalition last year took back several cities in Iraq from IS and liberated eastern Mosul in December. They are now trying to liberate the western parts of the city.
In an interview with Fox News earlier this year, Canon Andrew White, an Anglican priest known as the "vicar of Baghdad," said the "time has come where it is over, 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."
He added, "If there is anything I can tell Americans it is that your fellow brothers and sisters are suffering, they are desperate for help. And it is not just a matter of praying for peace. They need a lot — food, resources, clothes, everything. They need everything."