March 2003

How many Christians are in Iraq?

Although estimates vary, it is thought that between 2-5% of Iraqis--500,000 to 1 million people--are Christian. Another 1% are non-Muslim and non-Christian. Over the past decade, many Iraqi Christians left their country because of economic sanctions, so data is hard to come by.

How are Iraqi Christians treated? In general, Saddam Hussein's government has not persecuted Christians for their faith, though there have been isolated incidents of harrassment by Muslims. Hussein's regime has been religiously tolerant and has cracked down on anti-Christian violence. However, conversion from Islam to Christianity is forbidden. Are Iraqi Christians Protestant, Catholic, or something else? The largest group of Iraqi Christians are Chaldean. The Chaldean Church is an Eastern Rite branch of the Catholic Church. Some of its traditions and customs differ from those of Latin Rite churches, which is the type of Catholic church most Americans are familiar with. The head of the Chaldean church--the Catholicos Patriarch, based in Baghdad--"reports" to Pope John Paul II. What other Christian groups are in Iraq? The government officially recognizes 14 local Christian communities, most of which are affiliated with either the Catholic or Orthodox churches. These denominations include the Assyrian (Church of the East), Syrian Orthodox, Syrian Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Armenian Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic, and Coptic churches. Since 1981, no new churches have been allowed to register.

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