Republic of Iraq
June 30-July 1

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Area 438,317 Fertile plains of the Tigris and Euphrates, high mountains to the north and Syrian desert in southwest. Site of the ancient Sumerian, Assyrian and Babylonian empires.

Population Ann.Gr. Density
2000 23,114,884 +2.84% 53 per sq. km.
2010 30,338,663 +2.63% 69 per sq. km.
2025 41,013,588 +1.72% 94 per sq. km.

Capital Baghdad 4,850,000. Other major cities Mosul 664,000; Irbil (Kurdish Autonomous Region — KAR) 800,000.


The Sunni Arab minority dominates other ethnic groups; all claim higher statistics for their own group for political advantage [bracketed figure].

Arabs 70.2% [77.1%]. Shi’a Arab (in South) 11 mill.; Sunni Arab (in Centre) 5m; Bedouin 110,000; Madan (Marsh Arabs) 50,000.

Kurds 19% [23.7%]. 9 groups, largest: Sorani 2.24m; Kurmanji 1.7m; Central Kurds 527,000; Yazidi 100,000; Luri 80,000.

Turkic 6.1% [10.8%], in centre and north. Turkmen 1,260,000; Azeri 148,000; Turks 26,000.

Christian minorities 2.5% [5%]. Assyrian 500,000; Armenian 90,000.

Other 2.2%. Persian 290,000; Gypsy 167,000; Circassian 20,000.

Literacy 58%. Official languages Arabic; Kurdish in the KAR. All languages 23. Languages with Scriptures 3Bi 2NT 1por 4w.i.p.


Oil-based economy — since Genesis 11! Profits used to industrialize and build a powerful army. War with Iran halted economic development. The Gulf War and subsequent decade of UN sanctions have devastated the economy and impoverished the ordinary people. HDI 0.586; 125th/174. Public debt 174% of GNP. Income/person $540 (2% of USA). It was $6,600 in 1980.


Monarchy overthrown in a violent revolution in 1958. The Baathist military regime, with its secularist pan-Arab socialism, became a repressive dictatorship under Saddam Hussein. A massive military machine was built with the connivance of other Arab oil countries (and Western powers greedy for petrodollars). It was used to protect the dictatorship, repress the Kurds and Shi’a, launch a war against Iran (1980-88) and invade Kuwait in 1990. Although evicted from Kuwait and suffering heavy damage in the 1991 Gulf War, Iraq was not totally defeated. Sophisticated propaganda, ruthless suppression of dissent and cunning evasion of UN sanctions have enabled the regime to survive despite its isolation and the military ‘no-fly’ zones in both the north and south maintained by the USA and UK.


Pan-Arab socialism rather than Islam is the ideology of the Baathist regime. Religious minorities have been favoured by Saddam Hussein if they demonstrated political loyalty. Christians have had increasing freedom for worship and witness since 1968, but still suffer from discrimination. Persecution index 38th in the world.

Religions Population % Adherents Ann.Gr.
Muslim 96.85 22,386,765 +2.9%
Christian 1.55 358,281 -0.9%
Other 1.10 254,264 +2.8%
non-Religious 0.50 115,574 +6.5%

Christians Denom. Affil.% ,000 Ann.Gr.
Protestant 5 0.03 6 +3.4%
Independent 6 0.01 2 +0.9%
Anglican 1 0.00 0 +0.0%
Catholic 4 1.04 240 -0.2%
Orthodox 6 0.47 108 -2.7%
Marginal 1 0.00 0 +5.0%

Churches MegaBloc Cong. Members Affiliates
Catholic C 31 129,730 240,000
Assyrian Ch of the East O 66 32,967 60,000
Syrian Orthodox O 29 14,371 24,000
Armenian Apostolic O 10 9,341 17,000
Arab Evang P 35 2,400 5,328
Other denoms [15]   48 5,756 10,482
Total Christians [20]   219 194,565 356,810

Trans-bloc Groupings pop.% ,000 Ann.Gr.
Evangelical 0.1 22 +0.0%
Charismatic 0.0 10 -0.9%
  Pentecostal 0.0 0 -3.7%

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Answers to Prayer

1 Twenty years of war, diplomatic isolation and economic disasters have brought both a lowering of prejudices to the gospel among Muslims and an openness to witnessing and to reading the Scriptures.

2 The Christian community has suffered even more than the general population and in its pain nearly every denomination has experienced some renewal, revival and hunger for God’s Word. Praise God that hundreds of tons of Bibles and Christian literature have been legally imported into and printed in Iraq.

3 A genuine Kurdish Church is now a reality. There are five known congregations of Kurdish believers and a scattered sprinkling of Christians in the KAR.

Challenges for Prayer

1 A broken and demoralized society is the fruit of the harsh dictatorship. The extreme harshness of the regime has crushed all opposition, isolated the country and impoverished its peoples. A small Sunni Arab minority and an elite within it has repressed the Shi’ite majority in the south and Kurdish majority in the north. It is reputed that Saddam has over 50 opulent palaces. Pray for the binding of the evil spiritual powers that brood over this land.

2 The international community has made Iraq a pariah among nations. The effects have been devastating but have not ended the power of the ruling elite. Pray for:

a) Wisdom for the UN and world leaders in balancing retribution and humanitarian needs and in application of sanctions.

b) A viable, indigenous alternative government to arise that unites and rebuilds the shattered country. There are no clearly visible options.

c) Adequate material and social help for the million or more refugees in Iran (150,000), Jordan (350,000), Turkey and the West.

d) The provision of the needs of children and young people. One million children are suffering from chronic malnutrition and 300,000 were estimated to have died from sanctions-related causes in the 1990s. The UN ‘oil-for-aid’ programme has, though inadequate, somewhat alleviated the situation.

3 The Christian community is largely Assyrian with some Armenians. The Assyrians are descendants of the Nestorian or Ancient Church of the East; in two denominations since 1964. The Nestorian Church became one of the greatest missionary denominations of history, winning 6% of all of Asia’s population 1,000 years ago. It is reduced to less than 2 million in the world today through persecution, compromise and harassment. About one third of all Christians left Iraq in the 1990s and are a high proportion of the Iraqi refugee population. Pray for a restoration of their biblical heritage, present revival beginnings to spread and a vision for outreach. Many Assyrians are studying the Scriptures in ‘Light Clubs’ in the churches.

4 Most Assyrians are members of the Catholic-linked Chaldean Church and some became Evangelicals through the activity of foreign missionaries in the past 150 years. Pray for revival and growth in this Church. Only recently has there been an openness to reach the Muslim majority. There are now a growing number of Kurdish and Arab believers. Emigration is a major ‘disease’; pray for Christians willing to remain as lights in the darkness.

5 The few Evangelicals are mainly confined to the cities. They were persecuted in the 1960s and ‘70s and numbers declined. God gave revivals in the 1980s and house groups multiplied - from one in Baghdad to over 300 for a time. There are around 70 evangelical congregations in Iraq, but conversions are doing little more than replace those who are emigrating. Pray for these believers, their walk with the Lord and their witness to non-Christians. A small but growing number of Arabs and Kurds are seeking the Lord, both in Iraq and among Iraqi refugees in Jordan and elsewhere.

6 Leadership for the churches is a desperate need. Many good leaders have had to flee. Some Iraqis are in training in Jordan, Lebanon and elsewhere. Pray that many may return to Iraq.

7 All peoples are unreached apart from Assyrian and Armenian minority groups. Pray specifically for:

a) The Shi’a Arabs of Basra and the south. The exceptional brutality of the government suppression of the Shi’ite revolt in 1991 brought death to many of their leaders, imprisonment to 10,000+ and devastation to their land and communities. There is no known direct witness to them.

b) The Sunni Arabs and their future is entwined in that of Saddam Hussein. Few have heard the gospel.

c) The Madan or Marsh Arabs are probably descended from the ancient Sumerians. The Iraq-Iran War and 1991 Shi’ite revolt reduced their numbers in Iraq from 200,000 to 50,000. Their home habitat has been largely destroyed and many have been displaced to Basra and other parts of Iraq. There is no known outreach to them.

d) The Bedouin, Persians and Gypsies are all totally unreached.

8 The Kurdish Autonomous Region has emerged since the Gulf War and is under UN protection. It provides a homeland for many Kurds and Turkoman. The plight of the Kurds (see Turkey, Syria and Iran for more information) has caught the attention of the world. They have fought for survival and a national identity for 70 years. The period 1985-91 was particularly bloody and cruel. Iraqi atrocities have included the razing of 3,800 villages and towns (including 61 Christian Assyrian villages), destruction of the local economy, mining of fields, deportation of 500,000 to distant camps, and killing of up to 250,000. In the aftermath of the Gulf War in 1991 almost the entire Kurdish population became refugees. The KAR has its own democratic government administration, but is crippled by disunity and occasional fighting between the two main parties. It is dependent on revenues from sanctions-busting trade between Iraq and the world and on foreign aid. Pray for:

a) A just settlement of Kurdish desires for freedom and security, and of the national sensitivities of Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq. Turkey’s efforts to control Kurdish guerrilla activity north of its border has provoked military incursions and instability in the KAR.

b) Economic betterment. Through NGOs much has been achieved ‐ at a cost. Insecurity, death threats, difficulty in entering and leaving and the political divisions have all made any ministry perilous and hard to maintain. Pray for safety and fruitfulness for all those involved in these NGOs and that the love and witness of Christians might touch the hearts of many.

c) The Church. Assyrian Christians have suffered much persecution, destruction of villages and intimidation first by Saddam and then by the Kurds. Assyrian Christians in the KAR have been reduced by emigration to 45,000.

d) The growing number of Kurdish believers have also suffered intimidation and several have been martyred, but the little church fellowships are growing with new converts being added. Pray that a vibrant, united Kurdish Church might impact every part of Northern Iraq.

e) The unevangelized in the KAR:

i) The Yezidi are a syncretistic offshoot of both Zoroastrianism and Islam. They speak Kurdish and are known as ‘devil’ worshippers. There are very few believers.

ii) The Turkoman are a distinct Turkic people numbering between 1 and 2.5 million, but ‘claimed’ by the Kurds as Kurds. There are no known believers.

9 Christian support ministries:

a) The Bible Society has been actively involved in Iraq since 1985 and has coordinated massive imports of Scriptures from Lebanon and Jordan and overseen the printing of hundreds of thousands of NTs. Pray that this ministry may continue to thrive and that many Muslims might obtain copies. Pray also for the distribution of the recently completed Sorani NT, but a Kurmanji version suitable for the KAR is needed.

b) Christian literature is in great demand. Much is imported for use by Christians — not for Muslims. Over 55 churches have library sets of donated literature. There continues a need for commentaries, study books and Bibles.

c) The JESUS film is available in 10 languages and has been shown on national TV several times.

d) Christian radio broadcasts are one of the few means available for evangelism. Pray for the Arabic broadcasts of TWR (Monaco and Cyprus) and FEBA (Seychelles) as part of the ‘World By 2000’ programme. Many Iraqis have enrolled in Bible correspondence courses as a result. TWR daily airs 15-minute programmes in Sorani and less often in Kurmanji Kurdish; there is also a local radio station in the KAR run by Christians broadcasting 8 hours/day.

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