A Bible on the lectern at St George’s Church in Baghdad

A beacon of hope

At this particularly difficult time in Iraq’s history, St George’s Church in Baghdad continues to be a beacon of hope. Even the newly appointed Prime Minister of Iraq, Adil Abdul-Mahdi, paid a visit a few weeks ago. Abdul-Mahdi is seen as a moderate and his appointment has been met with cautious optimism from those hoping for an end to Iraq’s sectarian wars. The Prime Minister was shown around the church and medical clinic by Fr. Faiz Jerjees, Chaplain of St George’s and our long-standing partner in Baghdad. By all accounts, he was impressed and thanked Faiz and his staff for all they are doing. We reported on this visit several weeks ago but you can also read an article about it in the Anglican News here (published this week).

Sectarianism continues to blight the lives of ordinary decent people in Iraq. The north of the country now resembles a map of medieval Europe. A patchwork of fiefdoms and contested territories exist where before there were none. Since helping to rout ISIS from the battlefield, Shia militias and Kurdish Peshmerga vie for recaptured land. Initially they came as liberators. Video and photographs taken after the Battle for Mosul in 2016 showed Christians hugging Shia militiamen. But times have changed. During a recent visit to the village of Bashiqa, our team saw dozens of black Shia flags fluttering from houses on the approach road. Some of the people we spoke with there are understandably nervous. Some fear the militias will never leave. 

Fr. Faiz Jerjees shows Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi around St George’s Church

A blueprint for tolerance

It is important to restate the fact that most people in Iraq are not members of such groups. The thousands of people we are helping are simply trying to rebuild their shattered lives. They feel attacked from all sides and yearn for the day that they can live in peace. Iraq was never multicultural in the Western sense of the word. Ethno-religious groups often lived in solitudes with their backs to each other. However, they were tolerant of each other and muddled along in ways that are not so common today. That said, pluralism does exist at St George’s. As many of you will know, we fund a medical clinic in the church grounds which is staffed by both Christians and Muslims. Doctors and dentists of both religions treat people of all faiths and none. It is a rare sight. Could it also be a blueprint for the future?

The newspapers this week paint a bleak picture of Iraq. They say that ISIS is resurgent. While the group has lost its self-styled “caliphate”, it remains a nebulous threat. Pockets of ISIS fighters are now based in the lawless hinterland between Iraq and Syria. By night they loot villages and kidnap the innocent for ransom. Approximately 3,000 Yazidis are still missing, presumed dead or still in ISIS captivity. Though ISIS continues to assert an extreme form of Salafism, it retains support among some disaffected Sunnis. Indeed, many Iraqi Sunnis feel badly let down by the Shia government in Baghdad. As a result, some feel that ISIS and Al Qaeda, for all their barbarity, push back against the worst excesses of Shia polity.

A girl wanders through Dibaga camp in Makhmour, northern Iraq, where we have set up a hot food kitchen for the Sunni occupants

Restoration and renewal this Easter

As we look ahead to Easter, our focus is on restoration and renewal. The situation in Iraq is painful but there are signs that things are improving. Not all Iraqi Prime Ministers have visited St George’s, or have proffered public support for its mission. Despite the challenges, our Nineveh SEED initiative in northern Iraq is taking shape. Commercial greenhouses are being built with funds donated by our supporters and there are more projects in the pipeline. We continue to help 1,100 Iraqi Christian refugee families in Jordan, providing them with food packages and rental assistance. There is cause for hope. As it says in the Gospel of John: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5 NIV). If you agree, please support our work.

How to make a donation

To support our work in Iraq and Jordan, please make a donation now via our donate page (there are numerous options for how to donate). Or you can send us a cheque made out to ‘FRRME’ to: FRRME, PO Box 229, Petersfield, Hants, GU32 9DL, United Kingdom. Thank you!