Difficulties and persecution is nothing new to the minority Christians living in Iraq. However, local Christians are now saying that the anarchistic situation in their country has destroyed all optimism for a better future.
"Almost no one sees a bright future for Iraq," said Stefan De Groot, co-worker of the international organization Open Doors, according to a report on Tuesday.
De Groot, who visits Iraq several times a year, says that every time he visits, a local believer tells him that the situation is worse than the last time he visited.
"Another Christian told me he had to buy new clothes for his wife because during a shooting on the streets, her wardrobe was riddled with bullets," recalled De Groot. "A third man explained in detail what happened when he brought his son to school and a car bomb went off. The little boy ran inside the school and saw a human heart hanging against the window."
There are four violent groups in Iraq: Sunnite insurgents who used to belong to Saddam's Baath Party; Sunnites, who are fighting for Al Qaeda; Shiites; and a group comprised of criminals and gangs who don't belong to any of the other insurgency groups, according to De Groot.
The Open Doors co-worker said that the violent groups attack Christians for the main purpose of money to finance their fights.
"Most Christians are shop owners and have some money," said De Groot. "In addition, the small Christian minority has no armed branch which can take revenge or provide protection for them."
Nearly half of the Christians in Iraq have fled since the early 1990s.
The UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) call the massive exodus of Assyrian Christians, who make up the majority of the Iraqi Christian population, a humanitarian crisis. The United Nations reports that although Assyrians comprise only five percent of Iraq's population, they make up nearly 40 percent of the refugees fleeing Iraq.
Assyrian Christians living in America have rallied, calling on U.S. leaders to help form an autonomous zone in Iraq for Assyrians and other Christians where they can practice their faith freely and work without persecution.
"Because of their small population, weak status, and lack of regional support, they have no one to protect them from all the violence," said Paul Isaac, one of the organizers of the Christians for Assyrians of Iraq rally in December.
The Open Doors ministry operates several Christian cultural centers in Iraq to support the country's Christian population through skill-building courses. The centers host religious dialogues and conferences where movies like Jesus Film are shown or discussions on Christian cultural topics are held.
By Michelle Vu