Iraq (MNN) – Christians in Iraq are in a pincer grip between the Sunni government and the Shiite militia.
Following a violent clash last week between the Iraqi army and the Hashid al-Shaabi militia, a new agreement left Hashid in control of all but one of the checkpoints on the Ninevah Plains. Hashid is also in charge of security in Mosul.
The concern: who is actually in charge? The brokered deal firmly embeds the militia in the homeland of Christians, a disconcerting movement due to war crimes and human rights abuses.
Guilty by association
This latest development sent up alarms from Iraq’s believers, says Samuel of Redemptive Stories. “The Evangelical Church is facing backlash from both the Shia and Sunni parts of the parliamentary government, as well as the established traditional church. Most of it relates to the classic ‘guilty by association’ scenarios that often play out.”
Samuel explains some believe that Christianity is a Western religion. “One of the ‘guilty by association’ aspects of our (Middle Eastern) culture is that Christians are very connected in the mindset of most Arabs with America and American politics. So they view the evangelical church as a sister to America.”
What’s more, speeches by U.S. politicians regarding Israel can create a fierce backlash against Christians, especially now. “They’re being accused of being very pro-Israel. And, in our part of the world (Middle East), it has a negative context, because it is anti-Arab, in their mindset. Because of that, the Evangelical Church, in particular in Iraq, is facing lots of increased persecution and scrutiny.”
Christians targeted in Iraq
While not isolated, he went on to detail one specific event. “In the Nineveh plains, we’re seeing increased issues of violence. There’s an area called Bartella where, as recently as a few days ago, there was a family that was physically attacked by the Shia moving up with the Shabak minority that lives in that area, trying to take a stronger foothold there against the Christians.”
In other areas, the persecution looks more like harassment, but remains disruptive to ministry, Samuel says. “First of all, the church is not legally registered within Iraq, the Evangelical Church in particular. So that means if they want to expand any building projects, or any licensing that they need to accomplish tasks or accomplish the vision that they have is going to be stopped by government officials.”
Despite stories of Iraq’s Christians rebuilding in the region, it doesn’t come without cost. While one community might be in favor of the agreement with the Hashid, its presence can breed mistrust in another. Once again, Christians find themselves in the middle of a power struggle.
How to respond
Oddly, the nuances of that melee find roots in another age-old conflict: Israel and Palestine. It’s politics, heritage, and history all rolled up into one messy ball; it can’t be boiled down into a binary over-simplification. Samuel acknowledges the complications of the relationships and urges Christians outside of the region to do research and stay informed.
Ask questions of ministries engaged in Gospel work in these areas. Regardless of politics and nationalism, Samuel urges believers to be willing to see the body of Christ in all countries. When praying for the peace of Jerusalem, understand that “All of the Arab countries are tied to Palestine in many ways. They view that as a conflict that is overarching, and it is a representation of the East/West- Christian/Muslim struggle.”
He adds that having a more informed perspective allows for understanding Muslims, their context, and their grasp of the Gospel. “It will help speak into the lives of our Muslim brothers and sisters. It’ll help us to speak into the lives of our other Christian brothers and sisters so that they can have a better understanding of what really this situation is about.”
Headline Screengrab courtesy Prayercast.com