08/02/2004, 00.00
IRAQ
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Christians in Iraq, two thousand years of history

Iraqi Christians can proudly claim a two thousand year presence in Iraq going back to the times of St Thomas the Apostle, considered by many as the putative father of Christianity in the country. 

The largest Christian communities are found in Baghdad and some northern cities like Kirkuk, Irbil, and Mosul (the ancient Niniveh).

Out of a population of 24.2 million, Christians constitute only 3% for a total number of about 800,000 people. They belong to different denominations and rites such as the Assyrian-Nestorian Church, the Syriac-Catholic Church, the Syriac-Orthodox Church; the Armenian Orthodox Church has some members, the Catholic Church about 260,000, 70% following the Chaldean rite.

Christians have always had good relations with the Muslim majority (97%) without any incidents of violence, discrimination or intolerance marring their coexistence.

On the contrary, according to Msgr. Jean Sleiman, Latin Archbishop of Baghdad, Saddam Hussein's regime was behind "anti-Christian persecutions and repression." Christians were forced to emigrate, especially to the United States and Canada.

After the first Gulf War (1990-1991) about 150,000 Christians (1 in 6) left for the West to escape Saddam's repressive policies.

In the 2003 war that saw the collapse of the Baath regime, many Iraqi Christians found refuge in Jordan where they are still waiting to see how the political situation in their homeland turns out before moving back.

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