Tomorrow, April 30, brings critical elections in Iraq, a nation which has seen a mass exodus in recent years by the Christian population. Once considered a safe-haven, many Christians have now even fled from the northern Kurdish region as persecution swept upward from the south. While much of the conflict surrounding the election is fueled by differences between Shia and Sunni Muslims, Christians frequently bear the brunt of the ensuing violence.
During the last elections, U.S. troops were on hand to help stabilize the region; this time, the nation stands on its own. British news source, The Guardian, outlines some of the issues that may influence the outcome. Sunni Muslims, influential during the reign of Saddam Hussein, have felt disenfranchised during the regime of current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shia. The often-violent power struggle between Shia and Sunni continues to threaten the stability of the country and may play a role in tomorrow’s election. The Guardian reports, “Nikolay Mladenov, the UN’s envoy to Baghdad, recently warned that polarization would jeopardize investment and could further inflame violence. Iraq’s legislators say worsening violence is likely to favor Maliki’s chances of a third term.”
Another factor is the public’s general skepticism of pre-election rhetoric, having voted in the past based on the appeal of election promises that never came to fruition. “The April 30 election is framed as a vital self-reckoning and a chance for transformation in a society that is withered by uncertainty and the creep of regional chaos, “reports The Guardian. “But few in Baghdad seem to believe the poll holds answers for voters fatigued by insurgency and held back by intractable issues, such as sclerotic public services and rampant corruption.
“Every four years, we hear from our so-called leaders when they want to hold on to their chair,” said Abu Radwan to The Guardian. “So we give them again the power they want and they then start stealing all they want. There is nothing left for us.”
Another concern in the nation is the incursions of extremist groups from Syria entering Iraq along the western borders in the Anbar Province that contains approximately one-third the geographic area of Iraq and has a predominantly Sunni population. And the Sunni have seen little evidence of the current administration’s commitment to re-empower them and address their basic concerns. Insurgent forces in Anbar Province, fueled by extremists from Syria, have gained strength in recent months.
The increasing momentum of the insurgency in Anbar and the influence of extremists are concerns for the regime in Baghdad. “It is, of course, of concern for all the nations of the region,” Hussein Shahristani, the deputy prime minister for energy, reported to Guardian reporters. “Battle-experienced, international terrorists have been able to get political support and financial help from some countries. It has made them a serious security threat to us all, including Iraq.”
In this critical election, the complex forces and factions in Iraq feed concerns for the stability of the nation and post-election consequences. And as the few remaining Christians in Iraq await the results, considering how they might continue to serve Christ in the midst of the strife and hopelessness in Iraq, we stand with them in prayer.
Father, we see so much hopelessness for Christians in Iraq as we view their plight with our earthly eyes; we don’t understand how the situation there fits into Your purposes. But You have promised to work all things for good for those who love You and are called according to Your purposes. We know Your work in the hearts of men continues, even in Iraq, and we pray for believers there that You will keep them safe from any post-election fallout, that You will give them opportunities to share the hope of Christ with their Muslim neighbors, that You will encourage them with Your presence with them. Grant them courage, Father, to stand strong in their faith, and discernment as to how and when to speak of Your gospel message. This week we appeal with confidence and hope to You on behalf of fellow Christians in Iraq. In the name of Jesus before whom every knee shall bow on the last day. Amen.