Almost 70 percent of homes left vacant in Baghdad by Christians who fled the city after the U.S. invasion in 2003 have been seized illegally and an investigation by the Supreme Judicial Council of Iraq suggests that government officials might be behind the seizures.
Mohammed al–Rubai, a member of Baghdad's municipal council, brought the matter up during a recent interview with the Al–ada Iraqi TV station.
"Almost 70 percent of Baghdad's Christian homes have been illegally seized. These houses belonged to Christians who fled from Baghdad, seeking refuge from violent attacks targeting them and their homes. The title deed documents have been falsified and the new title deeds have been lodged with the real estate registry," said al–Rubai.
Many of the properties including homes, churches and monasteries have been given illegally to other Iraqi citizens making it possible for the original and new owners to possess legally registered title deeds to the same property, according to al–Rubai.
NGO Baghdad Beituna [Baghdad Our Home] estimates that there have been more than 7,000 violations against properties belonging to Iraqi Christians in Baghdad since 2003, according to Independent Catholic News.
"Most of the Christians who left Iraq for Europe had their homes stolen. Since then, their ownership was transferred, and the homes are now occupied by militia commanders and politicians in or close to power," said the group's director Saad Jassim.
The U.S. State Department revealed in a 2013 human rights report that internal corruption prevented the Iraqi government from effectively adjudicating property restitution claims that often disproportionately affected Christian communities.
An investigation into the illegal seizing of Christian property was launched in February and the Supreme Judicial Council of Iraq stated that members of the government that served under former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki are among the perpetrators taking the land.
"All properties that were confiscated, seized or had their ownership transferred or appropriated on ethnic, religious or sectarian grounds, or those seized without remuneration will be investigated," stated the Supreme Judicial Council. "The offenders will be held accountable and the victims will be given justice."
The council is asking Christian Iraqis who fled Baghdad for Europe to start the process of reclaiming their property by filing new lawsuits.