Facts about Iraq`s Christians

Christians once formed a large minority of Iraq`s mainly Muslim population but mounting sectarian attacks against them since the 2003 US-led invasion have sent their numbers plummeting.

AFP| Updated: Jul 19, 2014, 15:19 PM IST

Baghdad: Christians once formed a large minority of Iraq`s mainly Muslim population but mounting sectarian attacks against them since the 2003 US-led invasion have sent their numbers plummeting.

In June, jihadist insurgents led by Islamic State (IS) Sunni militants seized control of Mosul and have ordered the northern city`s large Christian community to convert to Islam, pay a special tax, leave or face execution.
Here are some facts about Christians in Iraq, whose population stands at around 32 million: 

  • The Christian population includes Chaldean, Assyrian, Armenian and Syriac communities, but it 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.
  • Before 2003, Christians living in Iraq`s second city of Mosul numbered 60,000 people, but that dropped to 35,000 this year and had shrunk to 25,000 by Thursday, according to Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako. Many fled when IS occupied the city in June and most of those who still remained had abandoned their Mosul homes on Saturday following a jihadist ultimatum.
  • Iraq`s Christian communities are among the world`s oldest. Some speak a form of Aramaic, a language thought to have been spoken by Jesus Christ.
  • Chaldo-Assyrians follow eastern rites of the Catholic Church, while Syriacs consider themselves Eastern Orthodox.
  • Like other Iraqi minorities, Christians have often been the target of attacks by Sunni extremists. Kidnappings, shootings and church bombings have driven thousands abroad or forced to them to flee to other parts of the country.
  • Iraq is also home to a small community of Mandean Sabeans. They are not considered Christians and practice one of the world`s oldest surviving Gnostic religions but they worship John the Baptist as their central prophet.
  • Now-executed president Saddam Hussein`s deputy prime minister Tareq Aziz is from a Chaldean Catholic family and one of Iraq`s best known Christians. Aziz, who is on death row, was baptised as Manuel Christo.