Once known as ancient Mesopotamia, modern-day Iraq was the location of significant Old Testament history. Arab Muslim invaders arrived early in the 7th century, and by the mid-8th century they established Baghdad as the capital of the Abbasid Empire. It remained the center of learning for the Muslim world until the 13th century.
Centuries of various empires followed. A violent coup in 1958 established Iraq as a republic, and in 1968 the Baath Party took control, eventually headed by Saddam Hussein from 1979 to 2003.
Like all Arabs, Iraqis live in a patriarchal, tribal culture where family name and reputation are everything. They are passionate, resourceful, and hospitable people who socialize frequently over generous meals and display a deep sense of humor.
Roughly 21 million Iraqi Arabs live in Iraq, with hundreds of thousands more outside of the country. Sunni Muslims, a large majority in the Muslim world, are a minority in Iraq (35%). Conversely, Shia Muslims, usually a minority, are the majority in Iraq (65%). Throughout much of history – and again since the overthrow of Hussein – the Sunni-Shia divide has caused much suffering and sorrow among Iraqi Arabs.
The toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003 did not improve life for Iraqi Arabs; some even say things became worse. Foreign military decisions created dangerous vacuums filled by the likes of Islamic State, the Sunni jihadist group that grew out of al-Qaeda in Iraq. IS overtook northern Iraq and eastern Syria in 2014.
IS has largely been defeated, but the remaining struggles are immense. Nearly every family has been touched by violence. Some estimate that as many as 500,000 people have died violently in Iraq since 2003. Sectarian divisions linger, corruption is rife, basic infrastructure has been destroyed, and services (water, electricity, healthcare) are limited and unreliable.
While most Iraqis detested Saddam Hussein, some are nostalgic for the stability he provided. They simply want to raise their families, put food on the table, go to school, and get decent jobs.
Some Iraqi Christians have chosen to stay or even return to Baghdad to live as salt and light among their neighbors. Christian literature has directed people to media sites, leading to increased interest in the Gospel.
Sadly, since many inquiries come from outside major cities, follow up is difficult as the security situation prevents easy access to these provinces. Unfortunately, the bonds of trust are so shattered throughout the society that people are terrified of strangers.
Numbers of Iraqi Arab believers from Muslim backgrounds are being discipled and are growing in their faith.
There are far fewer foreign Christians in the country now, but some who are there are trying to gather interested people into Bible studies. There are plenty of resources available for sharing the Gospel with Iraqi Arabs.
Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis live in diaspora throughout the world, and Christians are reaching out to them through friendship and service in countries where there is freedom to share.