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Iraq’s Christians ‘close to extinction’

The Archbishop of Irbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, has accused Britain’s Christian leaders of failing to do enough in defence of the vanishing Christian community in Iraq.

In an impassioned address in London, the Rt Rev Bashar Warda said Iraq’s Christians now faced extinction after 1,400 years of persecution.

Since the US-led invasion toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein in 2003, he said, the Christian community had dwindled by 83%, from around 1.5 million to just 250,000.

“Christianity in Iraq,” he said, “one of the oldest Churches, if not the oldest Church in the world, is perilously close to extinction. Those of us who remain must be ready to face martyrdom.”

He referred to the current, pressing threat from Islamic State (IS) jihadists as a “final, existential struggle”, following the group’s initial assault in 2014 that displaced more than 125,000 Christians from their historic homelands.

“Our tormentors confiscated our present,” he said, “while seeking to wipe out our history and destroy our future. In Iraq there is no redress for those who have lost properties, homes and businesses. Tens of thousands of Christians have nothing to show for their life’s work, for generations of work, in places where their families have lived, maybe, for thousands of years.”

IS, known in the Arab world as Daesh, was driven from its last stronghold at Baghuz in Syria in March after a massive multinational military campaign, effectively spelling the end of its self-declared “caliphate”.

Before that, it had already been expelled from Iraq’s second city of Mosul in July 2017.

But churches, monasteries and homes belonging to Christian families have been decimated and thousands of families have not returned.

This week the archbishop warned of what he said were a growing number of extremist groups that asserted that the killing of Christians and Yazidis helped to spread Islam.

‘Political correctness’

The archbishop went on to accuse Britain’s Christian leaders of “political correctness” over the issue – he called the failure to condemn extremism “a cancer”, saying they were not speaking out loudly enough for fear of being accused of Islamophobia.

“Will you continue to condone this never-ending, organised persecution against us?” he said. “When the next wave of violence begins to hit us, will anyone on your campuses hold demonstrations and carry signs that say ‘We are all Christians’?”