On April 30th, BBC News reported the occupation of Iraq’s parliament by Shia Muslims, angered by delays in approving a new cabinet and the government’s neglect of needed reforms. The following day, protesters began to abandon their occupation of the Green Zone, a highly fortified 3.9 square mile area of Baghdad that houses key government buildings and foreign embassies. The Green Zone is surrounded by blast walls, some of which protesters toppled as they breached the zone for the first time in weeks of civil unrest.
Supporters of Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr led the protest, calling for MPs to push through plans to replace politically affiliated ministers with non-partisan unelected officials. Powerful parties in parliament have opposed the change for several weeks. Saturday’s occupation of parliament came on the heels of another failure by MPs to reach a quorum to vote on the cabinet changes.
Deadly sectarian violence between the Shia majority and Sunnis has resulted in an increasingly divided Iraqi society. Sadr and his militia group, the Mehdi Army, gained prominence promoting anti-US sentiment after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Mr. Sadr’s followers clashed repeatedly with US forces and the cleric consistently demanded the withdrawal of US troops.
An arrest warrant was issued for Mr Sadr in 2004 in connection with the murder of a rival cleric, and his militia was also blamed for the torture and killing of thousands of Sunnis in the sectarian bloodshed of 2006 and 2007. Mr Sadr fled to Iran, but returned in 2011 with a changed message, calling for unity and peace in Iraq.
In the wake of the May 1 occupation of the Green Zone, the Sunni Muslim group IS claimed responsibility for twin suicide bombings. The bombings killed at least 33 people and wounded more than 50 in the southern Iraq town of Samawa. Details about the bombings remain unclear, but police verify that the blasts came within minutes of each other. The first took place outside a local government office; the second, at a bus station. IS claimed the bombings were targeted against police in the mainly Shia town about 148 miles south-east of the capital.
The political protests and bombings continue to exacerbate the difficult position of Christians living near the capital in Iraq; and the situation is even more precarious for believers in the northern regions. According to the Open Doors World Watch List, the Christian community, which has been present in Iraq for two millennia, is currently on the verge of extinction. Iraq has suffered from years of structural uncertainty, conflict and instability under a government incapable of enforcing the rule of law and protecting national security. Iraq is divided into two parts, the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in the north and the larger remaining Arab central and southern region. Kurds and Arabs have distinct, separate languages and culture. Most of Iraq’s oil resources are found near Kirkuk and Mosul, the border areas between the Kurdish region and Arab Iraq, and these are amongst the most violent places of Iraq. Iraqi’s few remaining Christians are caught here in the crossfire between warring groups: one fighting for a Kurdish autonomous country, and one for a religious cleansing of Iraq by Islamic terrorist groups who wish to make the country purely Islamic. Amidst the nearly constant chaos around them, churches continue to reach for sparks of hope as opportunities arise to reach out to refugees with the love of Jesus.
Source: BBC News, Open Doors, USA World Watch List
Father, we lift before Your throne of grace our fellow Christians living in Iraq. The instability of the nation as a whole and the direct threat of IS terrorist groups make it a place of fear and insecurity. Grant them courage each day to face the challenges before them, wisdom to know how to serve You well in the midst of almost constant crises, and compassionate hearts as they reach out to refugees in their midst. And we pray that You will grant peace and stability to the nation, but even more so that You will cause the message of Christ’s gospel to permeate this nation with light and hope, that the name of Christ might be lifted high. In the name of Jesus who reconciled us to Himself “making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” Amen.