BAGHDAD – When Don Alan* thinks of Iraq, he thinks of friends who sit trembling in their walled neighborhoods, afraid to take their kids to school.
There’s good reason for their fear, he said. January 2014 was Iraq’s deadliest month in nearly six years. More than 1,000 people died at the hands of gunmen and bombers last month. A total of 200 deaths were recorded during the first week of February, according to iraqbodycount.org. The website has tallied the nation’s violent deaths since 2003.
Scores of people were killed on Feb. 5 alone, according to CNN. During the course of the day, car bombs, suicide bombers and gunmen littered Baghdad and Mosul with bodies. Several of the attacks targeted security checkpoints, a normal part of life for Iraqis.
“Checkpoints there are as common as stoplights in the United States,” Alan, a Christian leader in the region, said. “In Baghdad, life is surrounded by blast walls. Every neighborhood is sealed off by walls with only one or two entrances.”
Fear is pervasive, and bloodshed is common, he said. “The whole country is more unstable than it’s been in quite a while, and it’s been heading that way for quite some time.”
Sectarian and political violence has been escalating for months, but recent fighting in the western province of Anbar has left 140,000 homeless and accelerated the uptick in the death count, according to CNN.
“My heart is broken for the people who have had to live through this for 10 or 11 years – they yearn for peace, and they are living with pretty severe post-traumatic stress symptoms,” Alan said.
But sometimes what breaks Alan’s heart the most, he said, is how the tragedy is lost on many Christians in the West.
“I’m afraid the Christian world has forgotten that there are hurting people in Iraq,” he said. “Do we in the West have the courage and boldness to engage lostness in the midst of tragedy? My heart breaks when I read of 20, 30, 60 who have been killed. I wonder if they ever had a chance to hear the gospel.”
He said he also wonders if Christians in the United States remember that they have brothers and sisters living out their faith in heavy persecution in Iraq.
“They feel forgotten, and we need to tell them they are not forgotten,” Alan said.
Christians in Iraq live their lives in the shadow of blast walls like everyone else there, but they also face extra pressure because of their faith, he said. Terrorists occasionally bomb churches or open fire on worship services like several gunmen did in 2010, killing more than 50 at a Catholic church in Baghdad.
Because of these attacks, Iraq has been experiencing a Christian “hemorrhage” ever since the second Gulf War, said Nik Ripken*, who has served more than 25 years with the International Mission Board and is an expert on the persecuted church in Muslim contexts.
“[Iraqi Christians] talk about their persecution as expected, as normal,” Ripken said after the 2010 attack. “What they talk about with brokenness is being rejected and forgotten by other people. The international Christian community has been silent. Iraq needs the prayers of Christians, for peace to come there so that Iraqi Christians can stay and those who have left can return home.”
Alan agreed that a “hemorrhage” of Christians was the trend in both Iraq and Syria.
“Pray that the believers would be steadfast in the midst of persecution,” he said. “They hold the peace that can bring stability to lives in Iraq. If they flee, that will be gone.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – *Names changed. Ava Thomas is a writer/editor for the International Mission Board based in Europe. To learn more about how to pray for the people of Iraq, visit namepeoples.imb.org.)