Kirkuk (AFP) -- Iraq's dwindling Christian community faces "disaster," and if no action is taken they will number just a few thousand in a decade, the country's most senior church leader told AFP.
Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako said the daily migration of Christians from Iraq was "terrifying" and blamed a range of factors, including generally poor security in the country and worsening religious extremism.
Iraq's Christian community is a shadow of what it used to be -- once numbering more than a million nationwide, with upwards of 600,000 in Baghdad alone, there are now fewer than 400,000 across the country.
"The daily migration of Christians from Iraq is terrifying and very worrying," Sako told AFP from the ethnically-mixed northern city of Kirkuk on Friday evening.
"The church is facing a disaster, and if the situation continues along this course, our numbers in the coming 10 years will be not more than a few thousand."
Sako blamed worsening security and religious extremism, and cited death threats against Christians and the forcible seizure of their property by armed gangs purporting to be members of powerful militias.
He also reiterated criticism of "Western countries who encourage migration of Christians."
The church leader spoke after visiting Christian communities nationwide.
Though not explicitly targeted as they were in the aftermath of the 2003 US-led invasion, Christians are among those suffering from the recent upsurge in violence across Iraq.
In addition to the bloodshed, they are vulnerable to pressure from armed groups, with local NGOs reporting several homes belonging to Christians having been forcibly seized.
Though others have suffered similar fates, Christian have been disproportionately targeted for reasons to do with tribal politics and because of the high number who have fled.
Because Christians do not retain tribal affiliations in the way Muslim Arabs do, they have little recourse for resolving disputes outside the Iraqi legal system, which is often criticised for corruption and subject to manipulation.