ERBIL, Iraq – By most measures, the Middle East’s most devastated Christian community today lies in Iraq, where a US-led invasion in 2003 ripped the lid off sectarian tensions, and where today the radical Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant holds sway over large swaths of the country.
A 1987 Iraqi census pegged the number of Christians at 1.4 million, which, if accurate, would have made it the second largest Christian community in the Middle East after Egypt’s. Today, Iraq’s Catholic bishops estimate that there may be no more than 200,000 Christians left.
In August, Iraqi Christians marked the grim one-year anniversaryof an Islamic State offensive in the Nineveh plains in northern Iraq that broke out on Aug. 6-7, 2014, which left thousands of Christians and members of the Yazidi sect dead. It also drove an estimated 120,000 Christians into exile either inside the country, in places such as Kirkuk and Erbil, or in refugee camps in nations such as Turkey and Jordan.
During the assault, churches and monasteries were destroyed, centuries-old Christian manuscripts were burned, and scores of Christians were killed, often in staggeringly brutal fashion – flogged to death, beheaded, and, in at least a few cases, reportedly crucified.
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