By BosNewsLife Middle East Service
BAGHDAD, IRAQ (BosNewsLife)-- Thousands of Christians are fleeing Iraq amid an upsurge in violence and eligious extremism in Iraq, the country's most senior church leader says.
In published remarks, Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako called the "daily migration" of Christians from Iraq “terrifying” and warned that if no action is taken they will number just a few thousand in a decade.
He told French news agency AFP that Iraq’s dwindling Christian community faces “disaster” amid poor security.
The patriarch criticized however "Western countries who encourage migration of Christians" which he suggested also contributed to Iraq’s Christian community being a shadow of what it used to be.
Once numbering more than a million nationwide, with upwards of 600,000 in Baghdad alone, there are now fewer than 400,000 across the country, according to several estimates.
"The daily migration of Christians from Iraq is terrifying and very worrying," Sako said, speaking from the ethnically-mixed northern city of Kirkuk.
"The church is facing a disaster, and if the situation continues along this course, our numbers in the coming 10 years will be not more than a few thousand."
He cited cited death threats against Christians and the forcible seizure of their property by armed gangs purporting to be members of powerful militias as among the reasons why many believers leave.
The church leader spoke in recent days after visiting Christian communities nationwide.
Though not explicitly targeted as they were in the aftermath of the 2003 US-led invasion, Christians are among those suffering from the recent upsurge in violence across Iraq, he said.
Though others have suffered similar fates, Christian have been disproportionately targeted for reasons to do with tribal politics and Islamic extremism, according to rights investigators.
As Christians do not retain tribal affiliations in the way Muslim Arabs do, they have little recourse for resolving disputes outside the Iraqi legal system, which is often criticised for corruption and subject to manipulation, commentators said.
For now, the exodus continues.