By Emily Drooby
It has been six years since Islamic State terrorists violently forced Christians out of Iraq.
Now that ISIS has been beaten back, the country’s Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi is strongly urging Iraqi Christians to come back home, and his hopes are high.
We are glad that Christians will return to Iraq and contribute to its reconstruction,” he told the Assyrian International News Agency. “Iraqis of all sects are yearning for a new Iraq that believes in peace and rejects violence.”
The Catholic humanitarian organization Aid to the Church in Need is at the forefront of helping Iraqi Christians. They offer support in many ways, including providing on the ground aid and rebuilding churches, schools and parish centers.
“The cities of say, Mosul and Bagdad…they have been decimated. You can count the amount of families on one hand or two hands,” said Ed Clancy, their director of outreach and evangelization.
Clancy said it’s tragic, because the Church in Iraq was evangelized by St. Mark, the companion of the first pope.
Since 2003, Iraq’s Christian community has plummeted from 1.5 million at the time to less than 120,000 now.
Many fled for their lives in the summer of 2014, when ISIS conquered Mosul and the Nineveh Plains, destroying everything in their path. Often people fled with only the clothes on their backs.
Those who have returned face many problems. Iraq’s prime minister is vowing to help, but that promise alone might not be enough.
“The agreement the government said, ‘You move back first and then we will fix things. You know, we will put in the roads, we will put in the police, we will put in the security,'” Clancy explained. “But that’s not the way it should work. You don’t move into a building as a business and say, ‘Okay we won’t have electricity, we won’t have security, we won’t have windows, but we will start a business.'”
Christians who are there are facing big challenges in getting goods to market and staying in business, especially in certain industries like scrap medal.
“These are ways of crowding them out or pushing them out that makes it extra difficult,” said Clancy.
He believes Christians will return to Iraq, just not right away
“It will happen if there is a term of success, if there is three to five years, it will slowly grow, but right now it’s just important to keep those people there and to get as many people back as will come,” he said.