In a move described as an insult to Iraq’s history, several churches have been put up for sale to be converted into commercial or residential units.
Joseph Saliwa, a Christian who formerly served in parliament, accused the Christian clergy of being complicit in the “sale and destruction of churches in Iraq.”
Saliwa said in a statement to the press that the Syriac Church had agreed to convert the Syriac Catholic Church in the Shurja area of Baghdad, founded in 1834, to a commercial site after its sale. This contravenes regulations stating that places of worship can be leased, not sold, he added.
Along with the Syriac Catholic Church, the Church of Divine Wisdom in Adhamiya, which was founded in 1932, and the monastery of Catholic monks in the Dora area were also up for sale to be converted into residential or commercial properties.
Saliwa said there were many Christian places of worship that were previously sold but “no one knows where their money went.” He pointed the finger at “the corruption and collusion of senior Christian officials.”
For almost a decade, the Christian community has been subjected to harassment, murder, kidnapping and displacement; the most severe of which was the during the ISIS capture of Mosul and vast areas in Nineveh in recent years.
This had followed a period of al-Qaeda advances in Baghdad and armed militias gaining ground across Baghdad, Basra and Babil.
Saliwa criticized the government's “silence” on the matter, pointing out that there are a number of churches in various areas of Baghdad sold by the facilitation of senior Christian figures and the Catholic Church headed by Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako.
The Syriac Catholic Church of the Virgin Mary is one of the oldest churches in Baghdad, said history professor Dr. Zine Elabidine al-Jaafar.
It is located in the Shorja area between the Church of Umm Al-Ahzan and the Coptic Church of the Virgin Mary.
Al-Jaafar called on the government and the Ministry of Culture to intervene to stop the sale of the churches and said the sales “would bury the history of Christianity in Iraq.”
He called for the transformation of this area into a heritage site to preserve “what remains of Syriac heritage, which is one of the chapters in the history of Iraq.”