Iraqi Christians’ Never-Ending ‘Black Day’
The Christians of Iraq recently commemorated the ninth anniversary of “The Black Day,” that is, August 6, 2014, when the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) invaded northern Iraq, where most of that nation’s Christian minorities, known as Chaldeans and/or Assyrians, live.
The atrocities then committed — and which were correctly labeled genocide by the international community — were unimaginable: I personally remember going through and still have access to numerous reports, many in non-English languages, of how ISIS butchered, enslaved, raped, bought and sold Christians as if they were chattel — not to mention the bombing or burning of countless, often ancient heritage-site churches and monasteries.
As such, it is fitting to remember the “Black Day” that ushered ISIS into Northern Iraq. To quote from a press release by American FRRME:
On that fateful day, countless families were torn apart, and Iraqi Christians were left with no choice but to flee their homes, leaving behind their cherished memories and traditions. “The Black Day” remains etched in our collective memory as a day of profound loss and suffering, resonating as a testament to the resilience of the human spirit in the face of unimaginable adversity. The surviving members of these ancient Christian communities have demonstrated remarkable courage and fortitude. They have held onto their faith, culture and heritage, even in the midst of great hardship and displacement. Their stories of survival and the ongoing efforts to rebuild their lives serve as a powerful source of inspiration to us all.
Although nothing was worse than being under ISIS, it is important to remember that the plight of Iraq’s Christians — one of the oldest Christian communities in the world — began well before the advent of ISIS and continues to the present moment. In other words, ISIS was always only the icing on the jihadist cake, one which continues to be dished out to Christians, even if in smaller slices.
In reality, everything went downhill for Iraq’s Christians following the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and subsequent toppling of Saddam Hussein.
It Started With the Toppling of Saddam Hussein
Whatever his faults, Saddam was a secularist — meaning that his internal enemies were the same enemies of Christians: observant (“radical”) Muslims who, just as they disliked Christian “infidels,” also disliked and sought to overthrow Saddam for not being a “true” Muslim — for being an apostate as they had long characterized him. As such, he kept them suppressed, which indirectly benefited Christians.
As one leading Vatican official put it, Christians, “paradoxically, were more protected under the dictatorship [of Saddam Hussein].”
Once he was toppled, the genie — or jihadi — bottle was uncorked: “militant” Muslims everywhere — many of them presented for years by the mainstream media as U.S. allies and “freedom fighters” — began to exercise sharia (as they later did in Libya, Yemen, Egypt, and Syria under the Obama-sponsored guise of an “Arab Spring”).
Here, for example, is a telling excerpt from an article I wrote in April 2011 — three years before ISIS even existed and had not yet caused the “Black Day”:
Last week an Iraqi Muslim scholar issued a fatwa that, among other barbarities, asserts that “it is permissible to spill the blood of Iraqi Christians.” Inciting as the fatwa is, it is also redundant. While last October’s Baghdad church attack which killed some sixty Christians is widely known … the fact is, Christian life in Iraq has been a living hell ever since U.S. forces ousted the late Saddam Hussein in 2003 …. Among other atrocities, beheading and crucifying Christians are not irregular occurrences; messages saying “you Christian dogs, leave or die,” are typical. Islamists see the church as an “obscene nest of pagans” and threaten to “exterminate Iraqi Christians.”
Again, keep in mind, the Muslims doing this were not ISIS, as ISIS would not even become an entity till 2013. They were just “militant” Muslims who hated Christians for the same reason their ancestors hated and ruthlessly subjugated Christians: Islam, which exploits innate tribalism, makes a detested enemy of the “other” — in this case, the non-Muslim, the infidel, who is to be abused, plundered, and slaughtered at will.
An Uncorked Islam
That the real issue was an uncorked Islam, as opposed to an organization called ISIS, is further apparent in the fact that, long after ISIS has been gone, Christians continue to suffer persecution and discrimination — at the hands of regular Iraqi citizens and even the U.S.-installed government.
Since late 2017, when ISIS was officially defeated in Iraq, Christians have continued to be physically attacked, including with knives; Christian shops have been firebombed, Christian churches invaded, Christian lands burned, and Christian homes illegally seized — always with the Iraqi government looking the other way.
None of this should be surprising: mainstream Iraqi clerics — Sunnis and Shias, neither “radicals” — continue to spew hate for infidels from their minbars. One Muslim leader on the government’s pay described Christians as “infidels and polytheists” stressing the need for “jihad” against them.
Discussing Islam’s correct approach to non-Muslims, the Grand Ayatollah Ahmad al-Baghdadi, Iraq’s top cleric, even went so far as to say on live television:
If they are people of the book [Jews and Christians] we demand of them the jizya — and if they refuse, then we fight them. That is if he is Christian. He has three choices: either convert to Islam, or, if he refuses and wishes to remain Christian, then pay the jizya [and live according to dhimmi rules]. But if they still refuse — then we fight them, and we abduct their women, and destroy their churches — this is Islam!
“Treated as a Second-Class Citizen”
In a December 30, 2022 interview, Louis Raphaël I Sako, the Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Babylon, discussed the continuing plight of Christians in post-ISIS Iraq. After saying that Christian minors continue to be pressured to convert to Islam and that sharia is being imposed on Christians, he said:
The [Iraqi] constitution talks about freedom of conscience, but it is just on paper. This mentality and these practices — all this inherited tradition — must end. The world has become a global village. Just look at the Muslims abroad. When I visit abroad and meet with heads of state, I see that the Muslims there have the same rights as the Christians and atheists. Here, however, I am treated as a second-class citizen.
Almost as if to prove him right, the most recent form of Iraqi persecution comes directly from Abdul Latif Rashid, the president of Iraq, and is directed against the Chaldean Patriarch himself. According to a July 13, 2023 report, “Under mounting pressure from a pro-Iran militia group, the Iraqi president earlier this month revoked a decade-old decree that formally recognized Chaldean Patriarch Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako and granted him powers over Christian endowment affairs.”
Islamic Hostility and Contempt for “Infidels”
Christians are convinced that this move is meant to facilitate the further confiscation of their property, which began under ISIS. In the words of Diya Butrus Slewa, a human rights activist from Ainkawa, “This is a political maneuver to seize the remainder of what Christians have left in Iraq and Baghdad and to expel them. Unfortunately, this is a blatant targeting of the Christians and a threat to their rights.”
Other Christians gathered in peaceful protests, holding up “placards telling the Iraqi government that they had committed ‘enough injustice’ against the long-suffering Christian community.” Another sign read:
Mr. President, the protector of the constitution should not violate the constitution. The Iraqi president orders the displacement of Christians, and opens the way for violating the property of the Chaldean Church which represents nearly 80 percent of Christians in Iraq and Kurdistan.
In short, Iraq’s Christians have gone from having ISIS, a terrorist organization, persecute them, to the U.S.-sponsored president of Iraq persecuting them, if in an admittedly less sensationalist form (hence why zero coverage from the “mainstream media”).
This should make clear that ISIS was never the cause, but rather an overt symptom of the persecution of Christians in Iraq and the broader Middle East. The true cause — Islamic hostility and contempt for “infidels” — remains alive and well, not least because it must never be named or acknowledged.
Raymond Ibrahim, author of Defenders of the West and Sword and Scimitar is the Distinguished Senior Shillman Fellow at the Gatestone Institute and the Judith Rosen Friedman Fellow at the Middle East Forum.